Bourdain takes season premiere of his CNN travel show to Israel

Culinary expert and fearless explorer comes to Israel for the first time with his program Parts Unknown.

Anthony Bourdain in a Jerusalem restaurant370 (photo credit: Courtesy, CNN)
Anthony Bourdain in a Jerusalem restaurant370
(photo credit: Courtesy, CNN)
He’s been to Myanmar, Colombia, Libya, Kurdistan, Vietnam and pretty much everywhere else in between. But in the premiere episode of the second season of his CNN show, Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain is finally tackling Jerusalem.
The chef turned author and TV host is known for his wild culinary adventures (and brash personality), eating fermented shark in Iceland, white truffles in Croatia and steamed tiger fish in the Congo, but he’s never featured Israel in either his long-running Travel Channel show, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, or the first season of his CNN show.
In fact, the closest he came was in 2006, when he was filming an episode of No Reservations in Lebanon when war broke out with Israel. The show eventually aired with footage of the crew’s firsthand encounters with Hezbollah, being holed up in a hotel and their eventual evacuation by US Marines. (That episode went on to be nominated for an Emmy, and Bourdain returned to Beirut in 2010 to complete his culinary adventures there).
Though the episode is titled “Jerusalem,” Bourdain visits Israel, the West Bank and Gaza in his trip, which was filmed in June.
Bourdain is no stranger to the Middle East, having visited Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, the UAE and of course, Lebanon. Some viewers saw his avoidance of Israel as an intentional snub, and both a Facebook campaign and 2011 articles in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and Tablet Magazine called on him to visit Jerusalem.
The acclaimed chef told Forbes the episode on Israel and the Palestinian territories is “certain to be controversial” and CNN that “it’s easily the most contentious piece of real estate in the world, and there’s no hope – none – of ever talking about it without pissing somebody, if not everybody, off.”
The 57-year-old got some help in his travels from the experts. In Jerusalem, he roamed around with Yotam Ottolenghi, the acclaimed chef and co-author of the bestselling cookbook Jerusalem. The pair wandered around Mahaneh Yehuda, dined at the historic Azura restaurant inside the Iraqi shuk, and explored the narrow alleyways of the Old City, including hummus at Abu Shukri and a walk on the Via Dolorosa. Bourdain even donned tefillin and a kippa to have his “bar mitzva” at the Western Wall.
“Israel’s a really beautiful country, there’s beaches, great restaurants, nice people, all that history,” said Bourdain in the episode.
“When you’re in a place where you can point and say ‘Oh yeah, Jesus walked there, and in fact took a right turn right there, it’s a place where history is a factor.”
Ottolenghi and Bourdain also tackled some of the big political questions – on food, that is.
As they chowed down on falafel at a stand in the Old City, Bourdain asked Ottolenghi about the food’s origin.
“So is there a historically provable answer to who invented it?” he said.
“There is actually no answer to this,” replied Ottolenghi, who co-wrote his popular book (and co-owns several London restaurants) with Sami Tamimi, a Jerusalem-born Palestinian. “But the question of food appropriation or who owns the food is massive here. You can go on arguing about it forever.”
In Gaza, Bourdain joined up with Laila el-Haddad, a Palestinian journalist and author of the 2012 cookbook The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey, who now lives in the US.
The pair traveled around the narrow strip, and she introduced him to the distinct cuisines in different areas of Gaza. They visited a local family in eastern Gaza, where they watched them cook together in the kitchen and joined them for a dinner of makluba.
But Bourdain also met with some nonculinary locals, including two women in Ramallah known as “The Speed Sisters,” members of the first all-female Palestinian racing team.
The TV personality also got a taste of coexistence when he visited the Majda restaurant just outside Jerusalem, in the hills of Ein Rafa, an Israeli-Arab village. The restaurant, only open on weekends, is run by husband-and-wife team Yakum Barhum, an Arab, and Michal Baranes, a Jew. Together they cook a vegetarian dinner, incorporating their different – yet similar – food traditions.
Overall the chef considers the trip an eyeopening experience.
“You always bring things along when you travel, your conceptions, your personal belief system the full weight of your life experience,” Bourdain said in the show.
“It’s going to come to bear on the way you experience a place.”
But ultimately, Bourdain endorsed Israel as a must-visit destination.
“Whatever you may think, and whatever baggage you bring to this place, you should see this.”
Bourdain will continue to continent-hop for season two of Parts Unknown, visiting Spain, Denmark, Tokyo and South Africa, to name just a few of his stops.The premiere episode of season two of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown – “Jerusalem” – will air on CNN on Friday, September 20 at 6 p.m. and Saturday, September 21 at 10 p.m.