"You know what I like? I like Sichuan," says intrepid host Anthony Bourdain, opening the Sichuan, China-focused episode of his CNN travelogue Parts Unknown. But that benevolent tone quickly shifts in the next sentence, to one of barely contained glee. "You know what else I like? Torturing my friend Eric Ripert."
Once again, Ripert — chef of New York City’s Le Bernardin and first-time visitor to China — provides the second half of the world’s least offensive bromance, joining Bourdain as television cameras roll to capture the trip for posterity. (Ripert had previously appeared in episodes filmed in Marseille and Peru.) And this time around, Bourdain delights in tormenting his good friend with the region’s most famous, most fiery-spicy delicacies, from boiling duck-intestine-laden hot pot to the chile-dotted lazi ji. "If you look closely — and I do," Bourdain says of Ripert’s sweaty, sinus-leaking reactions, "his discomfort can be exquisite."
But it’s not all peppercorns and chiles in Sichuan. During the episode, the duo speak thoughtfully about Ripert’s adherence to Buddhism and visit the largest stone buddha in the world. Elsewhere, they join acclaimed food writer Fuchsia Dunlop for a formal dinner featuring banquet-style versions of street food classics. And as per usual, there’s a lot of booze — mostly baijiu, the distilled spirit which factors into many social interactions. "At a business dinner, a banquet, one can reasonably expect to drink quite a lot of the stuff," Bourdain says, again delighting in pushing Ripert out of his comfort zone. "And my French friend has… concerns."
Here now are the 23 best Bourdain (and Ripert!) quips from Parts Unknown Sichuan:
1. Bourdain, on the infamous heat level of Sichuan’s food: "It’s the spicy, sensualist heartland of all the things I love about China… food that can burn you down to a charred, smoking little stump."
2. A one-two punch regarding stereotypes: Ripert: "I’m very surprised already of what I see in the city here. I was expecting, like, a gigantic Chinatown." Bourdain: "That’s some racist shit, right there."
3. Bourdain, warning Ripert of the booze about to come: "We’re going to eat well. You’re going to drink a little more than you like."
4. A back and forth on booze and manhood: Bourdain: "Drinking culture is very important here. If we go to a formal meal, your ability to drink leads to a number of assumptions about you: your general manliness, penis size, your worth as a human being…" Ripert: "I’m comfortable with my size."
5. Bourdain, on the two elements of flavor in Sichuan cuisine, ma (Sichuan peppercorns) and la ("facing-heaven chiles"): "If you imagine Ilsa, she-wolf of the SS tormenting you with nipple clamps as the la, the ma, provided by the pleasantly deranging peppercorns, would be like the naughty nurse with the ice cubes."
6. Bourdain, on why the myth of MSG-is-bad-for-you persists: "You know what causes Chinese restaurant syndrome? Racism. ‘Ooh I have a headache; it must have been the Chinese guy.’"
7. Bourdain, on lazi ji, a Sichuan spicy chicken specialty: "The dish, in practical terms, is a game of finding the bits of chicken in the mountain of ass-burning goodness. C’mon, it’s fun for the whole family."
8. Bourdain, on mapo tofu: "And if you ever have a hangover — and you will, my friend, you will — this will scare the evil right out."
9. Bourdain, on serving peppercorn fish to Ripert: "Any second now, that perfect hair is going to burst into flames."
10. Bourdain, on passing the giant buddha statue by boat: "And me, without my selfie stick."
11. Bourdain, on a regional delicacy of rabbit heads: "All this time, in a little evil part of my brain, I’ve been secretly looking forward to this moment: a tasty Sichuan snack famous and much-loved around these parts. I’m talking’ bunny heads, yo. Tasty, tasty, bunny heads."
12. Bourdain, on bastardizing childhood nursery rhymes: "Here comes Peter Cottontail… hopping’ down the bunny trail… right into my mouth."
13. Bourdain, on the hidden dangers of hot pot broth: "As it cooks down, it gets stronger and stronger, and the heat, more intense: a delicious yet unpredictable silt of spice gathering at the bottom of this river of hot lava."
14. Ripert, on the spice level messing with his brain: "I cannot think anymore. So I’m going to eat and drink."
15. Bourdain, on the attention Ripert’s getting in China: "Most of these people think he’s Richard Gere." Camera cuts to Ripert, who’s exploring on his own: "They think I am Anthony Bourdain. I’m going to play a son-of-a-bitch. Sorry, Tony."
16. Bourdain, on the unexpected texture of sea cucumber: "That resistance, that boing, that rubberiness, elasticity — it’s kind of the last frontier for Western palates."
17. Bourdain, on an outdoor ear cleaning session: "Don’t try this at home, folks — one wrong move to the right or the left and the patient could lose all memory of life before 1985. Which, if it includes Kenny Loggins, might be a good deal. But, I digress."
18. Bourdain, on the follow-up appointment: "So, you ready for the ass-cleaner? He’ll be right over — same tools as the ear-cleaner, by the way."
19. Bourdain, on the fickleness of cooking apparatus: "The wok is intensely hot; things cook quickly in there. A few seconds too slow, and things swiftly turn from the sublime to the ridiculous."
20. Bourdain, on a traveler’s rookie move: "I made a potentially lethal mistake this morning. I did something I never do. I ate a western breakfast at the hotel. It’s always, always bad news… I’m feeling it already."
21. Bourdain, on eschewing train bathrooms: "I don’t like to roll around in my own shit in a moving bathroom. That’s elitist?"
22. Bourdain, posing a "who’d you rather" to Ripert: "Who would you rather see in a Speedo: Wolf Blitzer, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, or Anderson Cooper?" Ripert: "Ooh, that’s a tough one." Bourdain: "No, actually, there’s an easy answer."
23. Bourdain, revealing his pick: "Come on, it’s Anderson Cooper! The guy works out — that’s a good-looking man."