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Thank Goodness Bourdain Met the Right Folks December 3, 2008

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, In My Opinion.

By Alex Sawit

03 December 2008




Whew… just breathing a sigh of relief.

It’s been well over a month since Anthony Bourdain and his amazing crew visited the country to film, for the first time, an episode of No Reservations in the Philippines. As somebody who watches Bourdain’s food & travel shows with keen interest – how often have I played my favorite episodes of A Cook’s Tour for friends here at the wine shop? – I welcomed the news with a winning sense of satisfaction. This visit was long overdue. For years, we could only watch as cable television’s iconic culinary hero traveled to every food destination in Asia except our own. A lot of episodes and several seasons later, Bourdain was feeling the pressure from smiling Filipino fans online and in person (yeah, lots of Pinoys in America), who relentlessly pressed him with the same question again and again. “So when are you going to the Philippines, Tony? When are you going to the Philippines, Tony? You’ve already been everywhere else in Asia… SO WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO THE PHILIPPINES, TONY???”

It was enough to make even a cool customer like Bourdain feel under pressure. “Of all the people who watch No Reservations,” he wrote anxiously in his blog after arriving in Manila, “it’s been Filipinos who have been consistently among our biggest fans and most vocal about our having yet to film in their country.”

That’s why I was a bit worried. The pressure was on, both on him and on us, to get it right. Like everyone else, I wanted Bourdain to discover Filipino food that was truly, soulfully good. And the only way this would happen was if they found the right Pinoy food lovers who would arrange to bring them to all the right Pinoy food places. My nagging fear was that the No Reservations team would hook up with just about any well-known local food blogger (I’m suddenly reminded of one very popular fellow who just doesn’t seem to know how to discriminate between what’s good and what’s only so-so) and find themselves brought to yet another glitzy commercial center to dine on characterless, sanitized grub made by some big-name local bar & grill.

In short, they needed the right fixers. If they’ve learned anything from shooting No Reservations over the years, it’s that the fixer in the country they’re filming in can make all the difference between a great show and a forgettable one. Just look at past seasons. That Hong Kong Episode? Absolutely fantastic – I tip my hat to the fixers in that glorious piece of television, above all to Hong Kong food blogger Josh, without whom we would not have gotten that memorable segment about the vanishing art of handmade noodles. But that Romania Episode? Heck, even Bourdain found the food trip, or lack of it, in Transylvania a bloody waste of time, largely because they opted to bring in their fixer from Russia instead of recruiting one from among the locals in Dracula’s home town. Bloody waste of time (sorry, can’t help overdoing the vampiric pun).

Well, as I said earlier, it’s been more than a month. But over the last couple of weeks I’ve been searching the web for clues as to how good or bad the Philippines Episode promises to be. I’m glad to say that, so far, it’s all looking very, very good. Piecing together what the different blogs are willing to reveal at this time, Bourdain was constantly on the road, traveling up and down the country to see if he could faithfully absorb as much as possible of our bewildering yet wonderfully compelling mix of Malay, Chinese, Spanish and American culinary influences. And absorb it he did. Among many things, he got to dig his fork over and over into a hot plate of tasty sisig and other Kapampangan delicacies in Angeles, sampled the honest goodness of everyday carinderia fare in Cubao, tucked into classic Filipino versions of Spanish dishes at an old café outside Manila and, to top it all, demolished what he has enthusiastically deemed to be the “best pig ever” on a scenic hill overlooking Cebu City (hopefully the microphones picked up enough crackling sounds for audiences to get an idea of how incredible lechon skin can be).

For all the negative publicity that our cuisine has suffered to its image abroad for one ridiculous reason or another, Bourdain now knows and loves what real Filipino food is all about. Safe to say, we’ve found a friendly new voice to champion our much-overlooked cuisine.

So let me thank all the Pinoy fixers who helped make everything turn out right. I don’t know all your identities yet, but I owe you – we all owe you. For now, I’ll settle for offering a shout out to Claude Tayag (for the Pampanga segment) and Marketman (for the Cebu segment), who have made an outstanding contribution to changing the way the world looks at Filipino food. Thank goodness Bourdain found you guys.

No Reservations: Philippines should be ready for audiences in North America as early as January 2009.


UPDATE (02 January 2009): Based on the schedule posted today on the Travel Channel website, the all-new No Reservations Season 5 premieres on Monday, 05 January at 10 p.m. (U.S. Eastern Time). Unfortunately for Pinoy fans, the new season kicks off with the Mexico Episode, to be followed each succeeding Monday night (same time slot) by the episodes on Venice, Washington, D.C., the Azores and Chicago in that order. This means the Philippines Episode will air on the Travel Channel on 09 February 2009.

UPDATE (10 February 2009): Looks like I wrote hastily the last time. It turns out that No Reservations Season 5 has a special “Food Porn” Episode that precedes the Philippines Episode. As of this writing, I’ve already downloaded torrent files of all the preceding episodes and am just waiting for somebody to upload the special. So be advised: The Philippines Episode will definitely air on the Travel Channel on 16 February 2009, 10 p.m. (U.S. Eastern Time). And if any of you folks want to see the previous episodes that I have on file, just drop by the shop.

UPDATE (26 April 2009): If you’ve already seen the Philippines Episode and are aware of the continuing debate it has caused among Pinoy fans of the show, you’ll probably want to read my post Reflecting On “No Reservations: Philippines” so you’ll know where I stand on the issues.





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