When book author and host of CNN’s “Parts Unknown” Anthony Bourdain first tried Jollibee in New Jersey years ago, he loved the pineapple slice in the chain’s Aloha Burger, the flan-topped halo-halo and the Little Big Bite—a large pan de sal with a slice of fried Spam and a dollop of mayo.
In Manila not too long ago, he ordered the spaghetti (“It’s the one with a lot of hotdogs, right?) and the Chickenjoy, gamely pouring the accompanying gravy over rice. He described the food as “wacky,” “deranged” but “slightly alluring.”
“I hate myself,” he said after enjoying his meal.
Last week, Bourdain was back in Manila for the World Street Food Congress at the Mall of Asia grounds. He was also here to scout for tenants in his super ambitious food hall in Manhattan to be located at Pier 57, an abandoned postwar structure on New York’s waterfront. The target date for the opening has been pushed to 2019.
Is there a chance for a Jollibee kiosk to be included?
“Look, I love Jollibee dearly, but I think a major chain, however wonderful I may find it… no.”
Bourdain Market, a sprawling 14,400 sq m, will have from 50 to 100 street food vendors from around the world. He still hasn’t decided on the tenants—saying only that he has a “wish list” of vendors—but he is certain about what he doesn’t want it to look like.
“What we’re looking for is a sense of controlled chaos. We don’t want it to look like a hawker market located in a hotel lobby by Philippe Starck,” Bourdain said last week.
In a US Vogue profile by Oliver Strand published last November, he was even more scathing. “If it feels like a Todd English product, then we can all just go home and throw a noose over the f***ing shower stall.”
He is hopeful, however, that Bourdain Market will do well: “More people than ever are interested in trying different food, unlike before when they saw foreign [food] as the enemy. I hope the good guys will win.”
In a one-on-one interview with Lifestyle, Bourdain, who travels 250 days a year, talked about what he packs in his first aid kit, why sisig will click, and how he has grown as a traveler.
What’s in your first aid kit?
Finger tape for jiujitsu, antibiotics, antidiarrhea medication, basic Band Aids.
Have you had to use the antidiarrheal meds?
Yes that’s a regular feature of the road if you travel long enough.
What can’t you travel without? Nonnegotiables?
I need my iPhone, a laptop to write, yellow legal pad and a pen, not much else.
Why do you think sisig will click?
I just think it’s accessible, it’s delicious, and goes well with beer. It’s the perfect drinking food. It’s porky, texturally interesting… it’s something Americans and Europeans are ready for.
Have you tried anything similar elsewhere?
No. It’s really unique and wonderful.
Of all the places you’ve been, which ones would you want to return to?
I keep going back to Beirut, Japan, China, Vietnam… at every opportunity, I keep coming back to the Philippines. It helps… how many islands in the Philippines? That’s a life’s work alone.
What have you noticed about yourself as a traveler as you’ve matured?
I’m more empathetic. I do admit that I’m wrong about everything. I think you realize how little you know, the more you travel.
But don’t you feel that it broadens horizons, etc?
In some ways, when you travel a lot you also turn inwards. You think about what it is you do and why you do it. It’s a strange life, I’m on the road 250 days a year. I’m looking out but also looking in.