On the most recent episode of Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain traveled to the Mississippi Delta for a look at the people and the food in a culture burdened by its painful past. Writer and director of the Southern Foodways Alliance John T. Edge tagged along for scenic drives through the Delta, tamales, pig ear sandwiches, and dinner at Lusco's, a restaurant that still very much feels like it did during the Prohibition-era. Bourdain also meets up for meals with chef John Currence, writers that have taken up residence in Oxford, Mississippi, and a variety of locals for a peek at the region where the past "is right there to see, still present, and coming to terms with it is [the] daily business of life." And now, on to the Quotable Bourdain; feel free to add your picks in the comments below.
1. On what's so great about Mississippi: "So next time some smart ass German or Brit horrified by our latest ham-fisted foreign policy blunder wonders out loud, "What good is America?" Well you can always pipe up that the blues, rock and roll, R&B, soul, and funk all came out of this place. One state, Mississippi."
2. On Jackson, Mississippi: "It's the kind of place that makes you wonder, why did they make it the capital?"
3. On John T. Edge: "[He] makes a point, a mission, out of knowing and teaching as much as he can about the real culinary traditions of the South and doing what he can to keep them alive, and unmolested."
4. On tamales: "At this point in history they are about as Mississippi as they are Mexican."
5. John T. Edge on his goals: "Sitting down here and eating tamales you can sketch a history of Mississippi. That's kind of what I'm most interested in doing, helping Southerners understand that their foods are as African as they are Western European."
6. On the caution required when discussing Southern food: "There is a discomfort level about exploring Southern food ways, particularly Mississippi food ways, when you're talking about high end traditional Southern cooking, you're talking plantations and slavery, because that's where these recipes came from. So to revel in that, you don't want to tumble into nostalgia. The potential for awkwardness and offense is enormous."
7. Edge on misconceptions about the South: "People come to the South looking for the past preserved in amber, but the reality is something different."
8. On his own assumptions about the region: "There's no doubt that much of Mississippi history is about as ugly as it gets. From slavery which was pretty much the backbone, the foundation of industry here from the get go, to Jim Crow, to lynchings, murder, and violence. To be honest, that was all about I had for an image of the state of Mississippi, that was all I knew."
9. Rapper Py Infamous on whether Mississippi is more racist than New York: "I think there are some deeply ingrained problems in Mississippi that are connected to a very ugly past that we share with some other Southern states. However, I think as far as when we talk about racism expressed through a classist lens? I think Mississippi and New York are on par."
10. On cutting steaks cooked over a campfire with a camping knife: "I'm feeling a little Crocodile dundee."
11. On the evolution of the Mississippi Delta: "This area used to look very different, massive wild old wood forests and swamps. After the passage of the cheerful sounding Native Removal Act of 1830, the Delta became open for settlement by any white people crazy enough, hearty enough, determined enough, or just plain mean and greedy enough to come here."
12. On the reverse segregation at Doe's Eat Place (a popular restaurant): "At the beginning the place catered to the black community. After word got out how good the food was, white people started coming which led to sort of a weird accommodation to the segregation of the day: Blacks came in the front, white people snuck in the back."
13. Writer Julia Reed on the kind of person that lives in the Delta: "You had to be a little crazy to come in the first place cause it was the swamps buddy. It was under water. You had to be crazy to come and had to have enough money to make it work, so you had sort of gamblers. That spirit still infuses the place, it's a little reckless."
14. Edge on the food-obsessed coming to Mississipi: "There were a lot of reasons to get the hell out of Mississippi for a long time, and now there's a return migration. There was that whole period in the late 60s early 70s where kids are bugging out at Brown University to come sit at the foot of an aging blues musician in Mississippi, there's a cyclical pattern to that. Now you see people kind of doing the same thing with food. There's a whole generation who wants to come down and sit at the foot of an aging catfish cook."
15. Willie Simmons (state senator) on the difference between soul food and Southern food: "It depends on the culture and what neighborhood you was in. If you were in the black neighborhood then it became soul."
16. On whether the right people get the credit for Southern cooking as we known it: "You think the right people get the credit? You turn on a TV and a bunch of white ladies are cooking down home Southern cooking."
17. Edge on the famed restaurant Lusco's: "This place is like a reliquary of indiscretions past."
18. On the curtained separate dining booths at Lusco's: "Sitting here, the booths, the curtains, the whole ring the bell for service thing, it seems lost in time. A place that almost can't exist after Jim Crow, the whole business model based on us and them."
19. Edge on what he loves about Mississippi: "One of things I love about this place is that you can't deny the burden of the past, like it's on your shoulders, it's right there. America chooses to deny its problems in many ways. It declares itself a post racial society. That shit just doesn't fly in Mississippi."
20. On Oxford, Mississippi: "It's a lovely, incongruously eccentric little island, a mutation… a magnet for writers, thinkers, and oddballs."
21. On writers: "Writers as I know from looking in my own dark heart, are generally terrible people. Put ten of them together and it's like putting your head in a bag full of snakes."
22. On writers' predilections: "There's nothing professional writers like more than free food."
23. Chef John Currence on Mississippi's lack of distinctive barbecue style: "We've sort of been puzzled for years what Mississippi barbecue is all about, the more I dug into it, the less and less I could find."
24. On the influence of the Delta: "I've been here only a week and my sentences are starting to change already. It's not a just physical, but there's a rhythm to the speech, but the way I'm organizing my thoughts is starting to change."
25. On curing hangovers: "More alcohol first thing will often make you feel better about the world, particularly if accompanied by freshly baked cornbread, biscuits, pulled pork off that whole hog, sweet jerk chicken, and brisket. Hell, I feel better already."
26. Juke joint owner William Seaberry convincing Bourdain to come back again: "Next time I'll find someone to get naked with you."
27. On the differences between the North and the South: "In the cities from the North where I come from in someways, we've been able to buy ourselves free from our past. New arrivals pour in with no memories of the lynchings, race riots, inequality, and persecution that occurs where I live to. We can afford the luxury of the new, we can live in comfortable bubbles high in the sky together, but in many ways more separate than at any time in history."
28. On Mississippi dealing with its past: "For Mississippi the past is right there to see, still present, and coming to terms with it is not an abstract discussion, but the daily business of life."