On the latest episode of Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain sets sail for the Caribbean to scope out the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. It’s a land of contrasts, and the episode opens by showing its two disparate but very much connected landscapes: the tranquil beaches complete with crashing waves and the crowded, bustling city accompanied by a chorus of car horns.
Bourdain’s professed fear of dancing in public keeps him away from massive parties like Mardi Gras in New Orleans or Trinidad’s own Carnival, so before the festivities begin, he heads out to explore Trinidad’s street food scene and discover the meaning of “liming” (hanging out) and “whining” (a particularly hippy style of dancing). But as Bourdain points out, the locals’ penchant for good times and celebration somewhat seems at odds with the nation’s dark history of colonialism, slavery, indentured servitude, and political violence.
An island nation just off the coast of Venezuela, it’s been colonized by the Spaniards, the Dutch, the French, and the British, with an economy built on sugar plantations and slavery and, later, oil. Beyond the economy, though, the oil industry had a bigger cultural effect on Trinidad: After the ruling British banned traditional drums made of animal skins, people improvised with steel oil drums and the sound has become an iconic part of Trinidadian music.
Here now, the 11 best lines from Parts Unknown’s Trinidad episode:
1) Bourdain on the lay of the land: “There’s Trinidad, and Tobago: One country, two very different islands, two very different places. One island is what you expected when you arrive wearing flip-flops and a Hawaiian shirt, all greased up with cocoa butter; the other ain’t about that at all.”
2) Bourdain on the biggest tourist draw: “Many visitors come to Trinidad for one thing and one thing only: Carnival, which locals say is the biggest party on Earth, a pre-Lenten festival of costumes, food, copious drinking, and the kind of dancing you better be good at before trying in public.”
3) Bourdain on the diversity of Trinidad: “The faces you see in the streets are African, Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern in features, and every shade of mix in between. This patchwork of ethnic identities and colors is a direct legacy of Trinidad’s colonial past.”
4) Bourdain on a local legend in the steelpan music scene: “Boogsie composes his pieces by layering different types of drums on top of each other. The engine room, made of unpitched percussion, lays down the groove. Next a section of six bass pans drops a bass line. The guitar and cello pans add harmonies that sound kind of like strumming. And the front line pans play the melody. The result: a symphonic wall of sound.”
5) Bourdain on the traditional Trinidadian dish that is doubles, a messy but popular snack: “Doubles are a Caribbean take on the Indian chana bhatura, two floppy tender pieces of soft Indian-style bread loaded with a wet heap of curried chickpeas, pepper sauce, and mango.”
6) As one of the episode’s featured Trinidadians explains, “The food is the glue that binds the society together.”
7) Bourdain on the stark contrast between Trinidad’s haves and have-nots: “It ain’t all good for everybody here by a long shot. Trinidad, with a population of only 1.3 million people, had 463 murders last year, giving Port of Spain a higher per capita murder rate than Detroit, Oakland, or Chicago.”
8) Bourdain on the persistence of long-held cultural traditions such as calinda, a type of Caribbean martial art: “Trinidad, it should be pointed out right now before you start packing your Speedo and your cocoa butter, is an industrial island. And, like so many places, industrialization is changing the landscape here. But some things persist, remain, echo from all the way back then.”
9) Bourdain on how Trinidadian food evolved: “As in Brazil and the Deep South, African slaves were given little to work with when it came time for the meal. More often than not, if they wanted meat, they had to make do with what the slave masters did not want: a tongue here, a cow foot there. Here as elsewhere, they figured out how to make something tender and delicious from whatever there was, like souse — pig foot is pickled in chadon beni, onions and hot peppers and then topped off with cucumbers.”
10) Bourdain on the other side of the nation: “30 miles east of Trinidad, its sister island Tobago. A whole different vibe around here, more like what you hope for when you waddle away from the buffet on the S.S. Norwalk cruise ship. Lazy beach days, boat drinks, villas, all set to a Calypso beat.”
11) Bourdain’s final thoughts: “No island in the sun is paradise on earth, however it might look from the concrete blocks, glass cubicles, or wood boxes we may live in. And all the dancing and music and great food in the world can never hold together, by itself, what would keep us apart. What might look like a utopian stew of ethnicities and cultures living together under swaying palms is of course a far more complicated matter. But Trinidad has done better than most and in proud and unique style.”
UPDATE: Because of breaking news, this episode of Parts Unknown did not air on CNN on Sunday night. But the network will run it on Sunday, June 25 at 9 p.m., and you can stream it on Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play right now.