Food News

No Reservations: Anthony Bourdain in Kurdistan

We're going to call this the non-food season of No Reservations. Sure Tony always winds up eating...something....but it looks like this year Anthony Bourdain is in it for the adrenaline rush (or its a ploy for an Emmy).  This week proves our point.

Anthony Bourdain and his crew travel halfway across the world, through one of the most dangerous spots on the eat lamb, play on a ferris wheel and go to a wedding. I'm sure his producers told him an alternate spot might be Orlando for the wonders of fast food and amusement park rides, but our Mr. Bourdain is never happy unless said ferris wheel comes with either landmines or lethal doses of radiation.

Before the No Reservations crew can step foot on Iraqi soil, the have to head over to Virginiastan, close to the D.C. border, for a little hazardous environment training. This involves a lot of people screaming with fake torn off limbs (how do they pretend to only have one leg, anyway), fake land mines and a lot of simulated terrorist attacks. Tony learns that nothing stops an AK-47 bullet. Not helmets, not bullet-proof vests and not cinder blocks. Geez - the tTravel Channel lawyers must be really happy about this.

After training, comes Kurdistan. Nestled in the upper reaches of Iraq,

the crew arrives, accompanied by a staff of four security personnel.

Home to the Middle East's fourth largest group, the Kurds, Kurdistan is

the "safer" part of Iraq now. Saddam Hussein tried to wipe out all Kurds

when he was in power. After he was killed, the Kurds were granted

autonomy over this part of Iraq. 

Tony visits an amusement park.

There are happy families enjoying a bobsled ride (with barbed wire), a

ferris wheel, and ice cream. Tony then has a nice family picnic in the

mountains. So far so good - no mine fields, no kidnapping threats. It's

all pretty nice. Tony chats up some of the people he's picnicing with

and they tell him that they are thankful to the people of the United

States and that they're "thirsty for democracy".

Tony notes that

many Kurdish women fought side by side with the men, while others cooked

the meals that fortified the guerillas that fought Hussein's army. To

be caught even cooking for the fighters meant prison...or worse.  Tony

visits a mock wedding and it's interesting to note that no matter where

on earth you are, some things are the same...we all use plastic plates

and forks.

It's off for a ride in an old Russian helicopter. Tony

enjoys himself sitting near the open hatch before landing in Erbil, the

largest city in Kurdistan. This city is one of the oldest in the world

and dates back to 6,000 B.C.

Tony heads off to the Bazaar and

notes helpfully, that if you're ever in a war zone, it's a great idea to

pop over to the local military surplus market. There, Tony picks up

some U.S. Army-issue desert boots. There are also guns, rifles,

night-vision goggles and, we assume, tanks and jets out back.


Erbil is a "dry city", Tony checks out the local tea house. When

there's no booze, no coffee and no women, we guess tea looks like a

mighty raucous time.

Tony then has some lunch with some U.S.

military personnel, who are loving this sweet gig after being in other

parts of Iraq. They don't have to wear their bullet-proof gear and can

enjoy a coke at the local food court. They suggest the "gut bomb", which

is a land mine-sized mound of chicken, rice and raisins baked into a

pastry shell.

It's on to Turkey. The only problem is that to get

to Turkey, you have to drive through one of the most dangerous parts of

Iraq. On go the tevlar vests. The ride is uneventful, though the

security detail later fess up that the "piss break" was one of the most

dangerous things they ever did during their stay". 

Here's a

riddle - what does the Turkish/Iraqi border and the Tijuana,

Mexico/California, U.S. border have in common? Six hour waits!  Since

their local drivers can't continue into Turkey, the crew switches to

Turkish taxi drivers, who immediately screw open the car door sides to

smuggle tobacco through the border. Tony says that he hopes its only

tobacco - he did, after all, see Midnight Express.


Turkey, Tony goes to a circumcision. If that's the best thing to do on a

Saturday afternoon, we're canceling our travel plans...right now!  More

fun ensues as a sheep is slaughtered, then the parts are cooked for the

meal.  Around the dinner table, a little small talk is passed along

with the lamb. Tony's asked "is Obama a Muslim" and "did the U.S. really

blow up their own twin towers". The answer to both questions is no, by the way.


the last evening's dinner, Tony hangs with his security detail who just

probably made a few thousand for doing nothing. They asked Tony, since

no incidents happened, if he thought they were worth it (probably

feeling a little guilty for taking Travel Channel's money)?  Tony says

that while nothing happened, he got a "warm, cuddly feeling" knowing

they were there.

And besides, if Travel Channel can pay for Samantha Brown, they're used to throwing their money away!

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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times, covering the restaurant and bar scene in South Florida. She has been featured on Cooking Channel’s Eat Street and Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race. Doss won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature on what it’s like to wait tables. In a previous life, she appeared off-Broadway and shook many a cocktail as a bartender at venues in South Florida and New York City. When she’s not writing, you can find Doss running some marathon then celebrating at the nearest watering hole.
Contact: Laine Doss