Season four of Anthony Bourdain's CNN travelogue Parts Unknown started with a philosophical bent: "What are our expectations?" Bourdain asked over an ethereal soundtrack. "Which of the things we desire are in reach? If not now, when? And will there be some left for me?" The idea of uncertain future potential is threaded throughout Bourdain's season-premiere visit to Shanghai, where the host struggles to reconcile "a learning curve that is impossibly steep." While visiting the 4,000-bottle wine chateau of a Shanghai billionaire, enjoying a multi-course wedding feast, and hanging out with members of China's burgeoning middle class, Bourdain marvels over and over: "Isn't this supposed to be communist China?"
Instead, he discovers a rapidly Westernized country fill with capitalist impulses and, crucially, excellent food. In the tradition of the Quotable Bourdain, here are the best lines from the episode. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments below.
1) On Shanghai's famous xiaolongbao, soup-filled dumplings: "As they're steamed, the delicious, delicious fat renders into a soup of the gods, which then — if you're not careful — causes unforgettable maxillal facial damage as it changes your life forever."
2) On how each 20-fold dumpling is perfectly engineered: "In the future, places like this… will be even more packed by Chinese, by expats, by visitors looking for the deeply satisfying rush of screamingly hot goodness, the chewy, deeply savory, fragrant, perfectly shaped and folded, ballistically designed delivery vehicles for pure pleasure."
3) On China's growth: "What is the future? I don't know. But to a very great extent, it is surely being determined here. Is there a plan? Probably not. Only appetites."
4) On politics: "This is a socialist country, supposedly. This is a Communist country, supposedly. It is in fact, from all the evidence I've ever seen, the most dynamic capitalist country on earth."
5) When asked about his own Communist leanings: "I'm a red-diaper baby."
6) On Chinese food culture in NYC: "I grew up in the '50s and '60s, and even then, Chinese restaurants and Chinese food was really and essential part of being a New Yorker. If you didn't know how to use chopsticks as a New Yorker, you were a terrible New Yorker." Bourdain then launches into a Brooklyn accent at the request of his hosts.
7) On a luxurious meal of Australian Wagyu: "Coming in the door at up to $150 a pound — that includes bones and fat — this is about $1,000 worth of steak, bitches."
8) On the Chinese people's love of food: "We talk about 'foodies' — what the hell does that mean? By current definition, best that I can understand it, that makes just about every Chinese person I ever laid eyes on a 'foodie.' Which is to say, a perfectly reasonable person who enjoys and pays attention where the good stuff is."
9) On deep-fried "snake treats" from street vendors: "Yes, it does kinda taste like chicken and it will, they tell me, make your schwanz so hard you could pound nails with it."
10) On wok hei, work-fired technique: "Hei means energy, life force, or breath. And that's what you're looking for — the vestigial flavor, the essence of a very old, carefully-seasoned cooking vessel."
11) On his ignorance: "Oddly enough, Thomas tells me there's no Mandarin — or a least, Shanghainese — word for 'wok.' It's simply called a 'cooking pot.' To which I say, I really do know nothing about this country."
12) On his off-camera extracurricular activities: "I do this every week. I go from hotel to hotel and I crash weddings."
13) On the first time he was in China: "I got super fucked up. I ended up going to karaoke. I ended up singing a Billy Idol song. I think I sang 'White Wedding.'"
14) On his Chinese host referring to booze as "white wine": "We have to get this straight. That is not wine. That is, like, grain alcohol. That's what we call liquor."
15) On solitary pleasures: "Noodles, for me, are a solitary pleasure: between me and my bowl."
16) On the noodle boom: "This is deceptively good business. What used to be a typical low-cost, working-class stall of the dai pai dong speed variety has in fact, blown up, along with the rest of the economy. Rich kids and TV guys like me want to eat here. And they do."