(Editor’s note: This piece was originally published May 27, 2016. It is republished in memory of the delightfully cantankerous man we all have loved, and who tragically took his own life today. Sir, you will be so missed. Please, if you ever need help, call the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-TALK)
Smack dab in the middle of his trip to Vietnam, President Obama took some time out to hang with Anthony Bourdain. Lucky us, the pair filmed a two-parter for CNN’s Parts Unknown, and our favorite curmudgeonly host quickly shared a few thoughts and photos so we wouldn’t have to wait for the shows to air. For we who already mourn the the inevitable changing of the guard, every last moment is bittersweet; the world’s goodwill toward this glorious man is evident in a possibly starstruck author and chef’s firsthand observations.
The reaction among regular people in Hanoi to the fact that the US President chose to eat Bun Cha was beyond all imagining. The effect was unbelievable.People were actually crying the next day, describing to me their shock and their pride, the reactions of their neighbors, to this completely unexpected choice of meal—and the venue.”
Obama’s thoughtfulness impressed,
He was among the very few guests on my show who ever asked the camera crew if they got to eat too.And he made a point of taking a picture with all of them when we were done.”
and even Bourdain seemed surprised at the President’s down-to-earthedness…
He clearly enjoyed sitting on a low plastic stool eating bun Cha . It felt to me like his night off. Even with Secret Service lurking nearby”
his skill with chopsticks, and clear enjoyment of the $6.00 meal.
The President is very comfortable with chopsticks. He handled the sticky, hard to separate noodles that accompany the pork and the broth components of Bun Cha skillfully. He even went in for seconds.
I believe he enjoyed that beer.”
The Bún chả Hương Liên restaurant owner — who had no idea who was filming that day — was thrilled by President Obama’s visit, saying “His presence in our restaurant was a great surprise for my whole family, who could never have imagined it, even in our dreams.”
Lastly, Bourdain noted the President’s clear fondness for the places he’d traveled.
The President is an Asiaphile. He spoke wistfully of his time in Indonesia and his memories of the smells and flavors of street food there.”
The two-part Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown episodes will air later this year.