In this week's episode of his CNN travelogue Parts Unknown, intrepid host Anthony Bourdain returns to Vietnam, a country that he excitedly, repeatedly emphasizes is "one of my favorite places on earth." The episode takes an often-somber tone as Bourdain hears testimony about the devastating Vietnam conflict — he takes cameras into underground tunnels where Central Vietnamese villagers lived, and films his friend Qui Duc Nguyen recounting how his father was "disappeared" by North Vietnamese soldiers.
But the quiet, reflective mood is balanced by Bourdain's spirited friendships with Hue locals and his giddy enthusiasm for the country. "I've been all over Vietnam, a place I feel a special connection to," he says, calling it "my first love; a place I remain besotted with, fascinated by." In the tradition of the Quotable Bourdain, here are the 19 best quips from the episode. Be warned: You're now entering Bourdain's "place of dreams; my spirit house. A city of ghosts."
1) On instantly achieving contentment: "All of the things I need for happiness: Low plastic stool, check. Tiny little plastic table, check. Something delicious in a bowl, check."
2) On his unbridled enthusiasm for the country: "I'm back, back in Vietnam, shit-eating grin for the duration: A giddy, silly, foolish man beyond caring.""
3) On a street-side meal: "This is the way so many great meals in my life have been enjoyed: sitting in the street, eating something out of a bowl that I'm not exactly sure what it is, scooters going by. It's so delicious, I feel like an animal."
4) Speaking directly to his bowl of cơm hến, a traditional dish of clams and rice: "Where have you been all my life?"
5) On his personal noodle soup rankings: "In my way of thinking, in the hierarchy of delicious, slurpy stuff in a bowl, bun bo hue is at the very top."
6) On eating bun bo hue at the city's Dong Ba market: "People are put on earth for various purposes; I was put on earth to do this. Eat noodles right here."
7) On his requirements for a romantic partner: "I would definitely bring a date for [bun bo hue]. Because if she doesn't like this, there's no hope of a relationship. If she said, 'Oh, I don't know, there's blood and stuff in there,' that would be a relationship-ender to me. I'm not kidding."
8) On how soup should be reflective of world status: "You live in a great country, man. Any country that can produce this is a superpower, as far as I'm concerned."
10) On Parts Unknown's future, changed forever by soup: "Nice burning feeling around my lips, flop sweat, check... we can pretty much cancel the rest of the show. I've achieved my happy zone. It's really all downhill from here."
11) On an old photo of himself: "Look at this. I look like my aunt Sonia."
12) On the poetry of scooters: "One of the great joys of life is riding a scooter through Vietnam, to be part of this mysterious, thrilling, beautiful choreography. Thousands upon thousands of people — families, friends, lovers — each an individual story glimpsed for a second or two in passing, sliding alongside, pouring like a torrent through the city. A flowing, gorgeous thing."
13) On imperial Hue-era dishes: "Back in dynastic times, the emperors demanded variety — in wives, of whom they would sometimes have over 100, and in food. The menus of the 19th century imperial palaces boasted new dishes every night. Small, flavorful, and beautifully presented."
14) On one of imperial-style dining's odder dishes: "We start with bird's nest soup, a delicacy to which I am usually immune."
15) On Vietnam as a palate-changer: "What I found when I came to this part of the world, Vietnam in particular, my palate changed. I needed an elevated level of chiles and heat."
16) On eating a fancy lobster dish: "We're getting into this with our hands, I'm guessing. I like this."
17) On snacks like the banh beo, steamed rice flour cakes topped with fried shallots and shrimp: "You call this type of eating an choi... recreational eating."
18) On simple country dishes like clay-wrapped chicken: "Out here, there are a lot of dishes like this. Fill a chicken with lemongrass, wrap it in banana leaves, then cover with a muddy clay from the nearby rice paddies. Cook in the coals or a pile of burning straws, if you like. Unwrap carefully, table side. Section with shears."
19) On future travel plans, confirmed: "I'll come back to Vietnam, always."