On last night's episode of CNN travelogue Parts Unknown, host Anthony Bourdain had the enviable task of exploring Hawaii. This being Parts Unknown, of course, this wasn't the Hawaii of "portion-controlled cruise line entertainments," but the real Hawaii of real Hawaiians. As Bourdain discovers in the course of the show, "a simple question like 'Who is Hawaiian?' gets you all kinds of answers."
This episode is jam-packed with cameos. Bourdain lunches with travel writer extraordinaire Paul Theroux and he parties with legendary legend Shep Gordon. Also keep an eye out for appearances from former Top Cheffer Sheldon Simeon, Pig and the Lady chef Andrew Le, and humpback whales.
Foodwise, Bourdain focuses on beloved local institutions and meals cooked on beaches. This being Hawaii, there is, of course, some Spam, but Bourdain doesn't spend much time waxing poetic on Spam musubi. Instead, he focuses on other fantastic hybrids, like a brunch plate combining white rice and potato macaroni salad or a taco rice, a dish created in Okinawa "to approximate Tex-Mex for homesick Americans GIs that was then appropriated in a post-ironic way by younger generations of Okinwawans and Japanese — that has now found its way back to Hawaii."
Here now, the 17 best lines from the episode:
1. On Hawaii's unique Americanness: "Hawaii is America, as American as anything could possibly be. Yet it also never shed what was there before, and the layers and layers that have come since. It's a wonderful, tricky, conflicted, mutant hellbroth in what for lack of a better word you have to call paradise."
2. On being told by Paul Theroux that nowhere is paradise, and that paradise is just in his head: "Wait a minute. You look at your window here, you look at those hills, those mountains, all that green, that blue sky and gem-clear sea. It sure looks like paradise to me."
3. On eating fish at Town, a neighborhood restaurant in Honolulu: "And as Hawaii is the only state in the union that allows day boat fishermen to sell directly to restaurants, the pan-roasted mahi mahi is pretty damn good."
4. On the truth about Hawaii: "It's not a particularly welcoming or friendly part of the world, contrary to the aloha myth."
5. On making light of how complex it is to define who is Hawaiian: "What's your feeling about Spam? So you're Hawaiian!"
6. On eating at Ethel's Grill in Honolulu: "The food is some bone-deep Hawaiian stuff, my friends."
7. On fishing off the shores of the notoriously unfriendly island Molokai: "Don't come over here sport fishing in the wrong place if you know what's good for you."
8. On having trouble biting the brain of still-live octopus in order to stun it: "In my case it took repeated crunching to locate the apparently Chiclet-sized organ."
9. On the impressive fish farms of Molokai: "Early, sustainable, clean fish farms: something in modern times we're still struggling to figure out."
10. On eating with the residents of Molokai: "It's a pretty impressive spread of food for such a supposedly surly group: slow-roasted pig, grilled kala fish, mullet cooked lavalu style, and, of course octopus, known as squid luau."
11. On poi, the traditional Hawaiian dish made from taro: "You gotta have it fresh, believe me, makes all the difference in the world."
12. On eating the octopus he killed: "I recognize you."
13. On whether his viewers should visit Molokai: "I hope your heart is swelling with admiration, but bottom line don't come here."
14. On the contradictions of Maui: "Sure, it's got its share of portion-controlled cruise line entertainments, doled out in digestible bites and complimentary Mai Tais, but you'll also find the sort of beloved indigenous institution like Tasty Crust, as local a place as you're likely to find."
15. On the plate lunch at Tasty Crust, which features white rice, potato mac salad, and a protein like chicken katsu or hamburger steak in gravy: "If indeed all history can be explained by what's on your plate, this is a prime example. Behold bitches, the plate brunch."
16. On the legendary Shep Gordon, who now lives in Hawaii: "Here, he's known as 'that guy who throws great parties.'"
17. On watching a bucket fill up with roasted pork: "That's pretty much the way I want to end up, just be able to pour me right into a pot."