When describing one's preferred comestibles to the outside world, we tend to use language that appeals most to the senses. Pad Thai? Tangy, vibrant, umami. Andouille sausage? Rich, fatty, veritably bursting with spice. Any adjective that comes to mind to properly and sufficiently articulate the delectable journey from plate to taste buds. 

But behind the satisfaction of every bite, there's a culture and a people that are often overlooked, or at the very least inadequately acknowledged by your run-of-the-mill foodie to whom flavor and presentation trump origin and history. 

On "Parts Unknown," our favorite culinary bad-boy, Chef Anthony Bourdain, brings us that integral intersection of food and culture from across the globe. Bourdain dives fork/chopstick/hand first into the tasty cuisines set before him while simultaneously giving his audience a look into his host countries' people and customs.

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But he doesn't go about it pretentiously. Often avoiding tame, tourist-y joints like the plague, Bourdain spends every episode indulging in food and conversation with local expats or chefs (sometimes both).

Topics of discussion often revolve around indigenous lifestyles and history as well as how they came to be. Be it political revolution or economic development, Bourdain and Co. keep a constant cultural exchange flowing along the provincial booze served with an assortment of flavor-packed delicacies.

Take, for example, the chef's trip to South Korea. One of the country's more popular dishes is 부대찌개 (Budae Jjigae), or translated in English, Army Stew. 

vegetable, seafood, meat, soup, ramen, fish, pepper
Photo courtesy of Richard Lee on flickr.com

Seems like a wonderfully spicy, fully-loaded, classic Asian stew, no? Looks can be deceiving. Yes, the dish was created in South Korea, but Chef Bourdain gives us the low-down on the American influence on its conception as well as the rather somber history behind it.

Back in the 50's, not long after the Korean War, food resources were scarce for the Korean population. Scavenging what they could from U.S. Army bases, innovators came up with this hearty blend of spam, Kraft slices, and other iconic American processed foods mixed with 고추장 (Gochujang) and other traditionally Korean ingredients to create a fusion comfort food like no other. It's this kind of commitment to informing viewers of the roots of food and its history that sets "Parts Unknown" apart from the rest.
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Another point for major props in Bourdain's showcase of international eats and culture is his grounded, self-aware philosophy when it comes to the comparison of on-screen production vs. reality. 

As a final point at the end of his episode in Madagascar, Bourdain says, "The camera is a liar. It shows everything, it shows nothing. It reveals only what we want... If you'd been here, chances are, you would've seen things differently." Wow. Talk about accountability. 

Instead of just giving us a brochure-esque picture of the country, Bourdain acknowledges that the way the show is produced masks some real poverty and environmental issues. It'd be a miracle if the rest of the television industry had the same level of transparency as this guy. 

Bottom line: "Parts Unknown" doesn't water down what it means to travel and eat abroad. Bourdain's approach to the show ensures that food and culture aren't presented as mutually exclusive; that they're deeply intertwined and often shed light on harsh realities when viewed together.

Here's to you, chef. Keep on doing what you're doing. We'll be watching (and drooling) along with ya.

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