Film & TV

Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown: You Don't Know Tapas

Last week's season premiere of CNN's Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown was serious and thoughtful. Bourdain, clearly a student of anthropology as much as food, visited Israel and the West Bank, focusing on both the history of the region and the current political and cultural happenings.

This week, Bourdain traveled to Andalucía, where his director of photography, Zach Zamboni, lives part-time with his fiance. With a close friend as tour guide, Tony relaxes in front of the camera and we see Bourdain in his sweet spot -- eating, drinking, and observing the world around him.

And there is lots to eat -- and see in Granada, where much of this episode is filmed. As Tony scarfs down a plate of snails in almond sauce, he explains that tapas in Spain is free as long as you drink. Keep the beer or wine flowing, and you'll get an endless array of small plates -- maybe some cheese, maybe some mussels, maybe ham.

Spain is known for beautiful architecture, wine, food, and lively people, but it's probably best known for its controversial and cruel sport of bullfighting. Tony says, that, "to see Spain. To see it, to understand it all, you should probably peek at that most Spanish of traditions, bullfighting." He takes us to a practice session where a toreador is assessing a calf's bravery. Cowardly calves wind up in a stew (which is where the brave ones wind up, too, coincidentally).

Although the calf looks small, he still goes for Zach's femoral artery, then it's Tony's turn with the baby bull. "No one likes to look like a pussy on camera," so he agrees. "This is fun. This is easy. Until you get a horn next to your nutsack. Then it's not so fun."

But, of course, the human always wins and Tony calms his nerves (and nutsack) with a big pot of what was the bull about ten minutes ago. Tony notices that bullfighting is not only about killing the bull -- it's about looking good. He asks if there are any bullfighters with muffin tops, which (thankfully for Spanish-American relations) gets lost in translation.

It's Semana Santa, the holy week leading up to Easter and Granada celebrates by having men in black and red silk robes parading the streets carrying torches. Clearly reminiscent of part of America's unsavory past, Tony says, "Let's face it. Who likes a bunch of guys in hoods coming at you? Frankly it freaks me out."

In need of a morning drink, our fearless traveler heads to a Jesus and Mary-themed establishment, where you can "ponder Christ with beer and sausages". Unsure of whether this is a good or bad idea for a themed bar, Tony says, "When I'm getting a late morning buzz, I don't want Jesus looking at me." Maybe they should ahve gone for that tiki theme, after all.

Back to tapas in the evening. Bourdain reminds us, once again, that a tapa is free. As long as you drink - the tapas keeps coming. What isn't free? Caviar, which is consumed by the spoonful. So are tapas joints just conning you into ordering caviar? When the complimentary plates include mussels steamed in olive oil and fried eggplant and honey -- does it matter?

Zach Zamboni says that the concept of free food at a bar is fantastic and Tony agrees. Then he goes so far as to say it would work in the states and New York bars should implement this quaint tradition. "Three dollars for a glass of wine and the food is free? I want a golden unicorn that shits money," Tony argues back, making the case that both free food in a Manhattan bar and gilt ponies are clearly both figments of the imagination.

As Tony meets Zach's future in-laws, he quips that they're not only gaining a son, they're also getting an annoying and slightly drunk uncle Tony. As they tuck into their lunch before a refreshing siesta, Bourdain asks how many times Zamboni gets drunk a day? "One and a half," is the response.

"When my time comes, I want to die at a table like this," Bourdain says.

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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss