Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown: The Lost Hmong Episode
I had a dream about my Hmong episode with Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown last night, here’s how it goes:
We start with Tony’s usual monologue where he talks about his love for southeast Asian food and the turbulent times of the Vietnam war. He talks about how many folks were displaced to America yet they took their food with them. He makes an introspection about his Laos Food special where he came across Hmong people in Laos but now he’s visiting Hmong people in the states and they’ve got some tasty food he wants to try. He knows just the guy.
Next scene, he comes to a humble home in Sacramento and knocks on the door and guess who opens it? It’s me!😃 By now I’m a well known director/writer and we shake hands and hug and I invite him in. First dish! Rice and water and Thai chilis dipped in salt. whaaa? I comment on the simplicity of the dish but the struggle of it as well. We start a conversation about the journey that the Hmong had made from Southeast Asia to now and Tony is intrigued. We go to a Hmong restaurant in town and try Hmong sausage and Hmong pepper of various kinds. Hmong love spicy foods and man is it GOOD, he comments, sipping away on some asian beer (probably Singha). I up the ante by bringing in some homemade rice wine. Oh shiiiiiiet. We both get shit faced and laugh. Day one ends.
Next day, it’s 5am. Tony’s hungover but up and slightly annoyed. He meets me at a slaughterhouse, I’m wearing a plastic apron and hairnet (funny cause I have no hair!). We’re getting a pig for a blessing ceremony (Hu plig). He gets to choose which pig he wants and does a monologue of not wanting to pick and how stinky the place is. Classic Tony. He tells the unlucky pig “sorry”, like really sorry, before the lady owner in rubber boots corrals the piggy in the butcher room. We see the whole process and then loosely chop up pork to be taken back to my Granma’s house for the ceremony.
We see Tony with my uncles, all chopping along with him being taught how to butcher the pork and him teaching my uncles his culinary skills as well. He comments on the family aspect of the ceremony. We get all done and sit at the table. Guess who the ceremony is for? It’s for Tony! We all tie his wrist with white little strings and wish him all the luck in the world. He’s flattered. I tell him he’s family now and welcome to come back anytime. But for now, we drink and be merry! We introduce Tony to the Hmong drinking game with the fam. Surprisingly, he does really well and drinks most of us under the table! This old white dude can hang!
The last day, I take Tony to a Hmong funeral, where our most signature of dishes is made. Tony makes his rounds to the gambling tables, to the grieving family members, samples the different foods, helps cook abit, chops up some beef while swigging a beer, he even drops a 20 in the donation box. He has a smoke with some of the smokers outside and comments on the guy with the crossbow and carrying a chicken. He makes a reflection of tradition of Hmong people but also the community aspect of it all. How that Hmong people had suffered so much yet could be so welcoming and giving. Last dish! The big one! COW SHIT SOUP. We both dig in and realize we can only handle a few sips. Too bitter🤢. We both laugh and wipe our mouths with cheap napkins. The people in the funeral home start to clear out.
It’s at this point I forgot see whose funeral we were attending. We both go up to the coffin to see and it’s empty. Tony turns to me and says, ‘Sorry kid. Its my time”. He grunts as he gets up and slides himself in the coffin. I’m overcome with shock and horror. I cry, “No, no, no. Not yet. There’s so many cool things I want to show you about me and my culture!”
Tony says something cool, something poetic, like he always does at the end of his episodes, something along the lines of “Kid, you folks were always cool”. Then he closes his eyes for the last time.