Traveling from the humming streets of Addis Ababa to rural villages, the latest episode of CNN’s series Parts Unknown spans history, culture, and heritage to debunk myths and discover where Ethiopia stands as a country today. According to host Anthony Bourdain, the country is undergoing renewed economic growth “fueled largely by direct foreign investment and a returning Ethiopian diaspora.” And appropriate to that theme, New York City chef Marcus Samuelsson and his wife, model Maya Haile, act as Bourdain’s guides.
“I always find it such a paradox that I was born into very little food, but yet I’ve made my whole life about food.”
Samuelsson’s exploration of his own sense of place plays a major role in the episode. His relationship to Ethiopia is a complex one. Samuelsson was born to a farming family in a rural Ethiopian village in the 1970s and contracted tuberculosis at the age of two. In a last-ditch effort to save her children, Samuelsson’s mother walked him and his sister 75 miles to a Swedish hospital in Addis Ababa for treatment. She later died, but Samuelsson and his sister recovered and were adopted by a Swedish couple. Then, at an early age, Samuelsson moved to New York City, where he established himself as an expert chef.
“I always find it such a paradox that I was born into very little food, but yet I’ve made my whole life about food,” he says. “My structure and pragmatism comes from being raised in Sweden. And my sort of vibrancy and warmth to cooking and feel-based food that I love comes definitely from here [Ethiopia].” Samuelsson has since reconnected with his birth father and has forged even more Ethiopian ties through marriage; Maya was born and raised in Ethiopia and has a strong grasp on the language and customs. From skate parks to tej bars and sheep slaughtering ceremonies, the group explores what it means to be a modern Ethiopian.
Here now, the 15 best Bourdain quips from his Ethiopian sojourn:
1) On the curiosity of seeking out food in a place with a history of famine: “Weirdly enough, the single aspect of Ethiopian culture that most Westerners do know a little about is Ethiopian food.”
2) On injera bread: “It’s not just food, it’s an implement.”
3) On the cultural practice of gursha — stuffing food in a fellow diner’s face: “Try this at the Waffle House sometime and prepare for awkwardness.”
4) On the local cocktail — Turbo: “What’s the first rule of drinking? Don’t mix.”
5) After drinking the Turbo: “You’re terrible people, man.”
6) On tej, a low-alcohol fermented barley and honey drink: “It’s a cheap buzz.”
7) On the number of religious icons in the tej bet: “That’s the last thing I want to see in a bar — the disapproving gaze of a saint.”
8) On an era known as “The Swinging Addis”: “Before those fun-hating commies came and ruined everything.”
9) While looking for chicken in a market: “I can smell a frightened chicken a mile off.”
10) Before the chickens are slaughtered: “See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya.”
11) To Samuelsson, on helping women make a feast: “How do the ladies feel about you cooking? This is causing serious problems?” Samuelsson, in response: “No, you already crossed it — because you’re the first foreigner ever in that kitchen.”
12) On the traditional feast-making roles in Maya Haile’s village: “The production continues. Women in the kitchen — except for Marcus, who [looks] most comfortable there though his presence is a befuddlement to the others. Men taking care of the meat. Oh bro food traditions, you’re everywhere!”
13) To Samuelsson, on humanity’s unique feasting skills: “It goes right back to the first fire. ‘I’ll bring the dip.'”
14) On giant platters of barbecued meat: “This I love without reservation.”
15) On Samuelsson’s preordained profession: “I’m pretty sure you would have been a shit farmer, Marcus, I really do. I just, I can’t see it. You would have been the best-dressed goddamn farmer, that’s for sure.”
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