I take it all back. Everything I said about Kitchen Confidential I take back. The scrappy edit, the attitude, the skipping over of history, the half-told tales. I take it all back. If the success of that book meant that Anthony Bourdain was allowed to write this book - well, I take it all back.
This time around, Tony (he's Tony, like Tony Soprano) is travelling the world looking for the perfect meal. What that entails (or rather, what that entrails) is eating delicacies indigenous to specific locales: he eats a still-beating cobra's heart and drinks snake bile in Vietnam, he devours the intestines of a pig (and the everything else of a pig) in Portugal, he sucks up fish eyes, he eats a whole roasted lamb with the Tuareg (a nomadic desert community) in the Sahara, he dines with Russian gangsters, he even eats vegetarian food (and you know how much Tony hates vegetarians!). But it's more than that: he eats powdered dried king prawns, chopped toro and fresh chives, he eats tiny coronets of salmon tartare, shallot soup with English cucumber sorbet and dill-weed tuile. Your mouth aches. He eats muc huap (which is steamed squid and ginger), ca thut xot ca chu (tuna braised in tomato and cilantro) and mi canh ca (a sweet-and-sour soup of fish, noodles, tomato, onion, cilantro, pineapple and scallion, together with green crabs overstuffed with roe). You are narcotic with hunger.
But there is still more. You warm to Tony more this time around. It feels like the pressure is off. He is no longer performing (or at least not in the same way). We're old friends now, almost. What problems there are (he still skips - the book is wildly episodic and anecdotal - one chapter he is here, one chapter he is there - you get no real sense of WHY he goes to the places he does, what decisions are made concerning the passage from A to B) don't seem to matter quite so much because the episodes themselves are just so damn good.