A Cook's Tour (2002–…): Season 1, Episode 4 - Eating on the Mekong - full transcript

Mekong River, Vietnam: On the river, Tony drinks a lot of Mekong moonshine with the welcoming owners of a duck farm. Although seduced by his Vietnam experience, Tony is not sure the royal dish Birds Nest Soup is all its cracked up to be.

Welcome to my world.

Two escargot, pate,
frisee, two green salads.

OK, line these up here.

Lamb chop, steak
frites-- shouldn't you

be doing something?

Two smoked fillet
and a pepper steak.

Come on.

Make the dessert.

Chocolate tart, please.

As a cook, tastes and
smells are my memories.

Now I'm in search of new ones.



So I'm leaving New
York City, and hope

to have a few epiphanies
around the world.

And I'm willing to go to
some lengths to do that.

I am looking for extremes
of emotion and experience.

I'll try anything.

I'll risk everything.

I have nothing to lose.

Vietnam has
intoxicating beauty that

extends far beyond
the urban setting up.

Today I'm off to
explore the countryside.

My good friend Philippe Lajaunie
pulled in semi-unexpectedly

last night.

We're ready for our adventure.

This is it.



We're off on our next leg.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING: We
are travelling south from Ho

Chi Minh City, heading
into the Mekong Delta,

the rice basket of Vietnam,
to explore river life and its

cuisine.

Philippe is a
consummate gourmand.

And I say that with
the utmost respect.

Philippe loves food.

I don't think there's
anything in this world

that he wouldn't eat.

Oh, just half is good.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING: He
gets me into a lot of trouble.

But it's always a lot of fun.

Good.

The best.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
We're cruising down

highway one, on our way to
the southern city of Can Tho,

about a six hour journey.

We make a few pit stops.

A bit of a jam up on the road.

Clearly black was not a
sensible fashion selection.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: The terrain

is pancake flat an
deliriously green.

Martha Stewart does this stuff.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: Can Tho, this

is the Vietnam I've seen
in movies-- the scenery,

the pace, the river life.

The air is fresh for being
in the middle of the land

here Are we going?

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
This morning, we're

slipping out onto the
mighty Mekong River

for a little breakfast.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: I think

a bowl of extremely spicy
pho might hook me up.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING: When
you're on a river in Vietnam,

you get a real sense
of the industriousness,

the use of space, the
engineering skills.

It's almost an entirely
waterborne existence.

Check the gas station out.

Slightly combustible,
you think?

It's like a floating bomb, man.

And I'll bet you $100, the guy
who pilots that little buggy,

I bet you he smokes like a find.

There it is.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: Cai Rang

is the largest floating
market in the Mekong Delta.

From fish to fruit
to flowers, it's

all here being bought and sold.

Look at this.

This is unbelievable.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
I'm constantly impressed.

How do they do it?

With boats that seem
barely seaworthy,

not only do they float, but
you can run a business out

of the thing.

They're are little snack
boats floating around

with prepared foods catering,
to the merchants who work here.

If you want a cup of coffee,
you call the coffee boat over.

Having a little floating
Starbucks over here.

I'll have a double latte
mochaccino, please.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
Starbucks really is in trouble.

Because look at this
coffee operation.

They've got it all, right there.

Very cool.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
Absolutely steaming

hot wonderful coffee,
delivered right

in the middle of the river.

It's great.

I can't tell you
[BLEEP] at Starbucks.

Thank you, my friend.

Thank you, kind sir.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
After a cup of coffee, perhaps

a traditional
Vietnamese breakfast--

a nice, steaming
hot bowl of pho.

A little noodle soup.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING: Beef
broth, beef, noodles, cilantro,

bean sprouts,
chopped red chilies,

and a squeeze of lemon.

I'm rethinking my morning
Cap'n Crunch ritual.

This is the best.

The flavors are so, so good.

It's the true home cooking.

Baguette lady is here.

They make [INAUDIBLE]
baguettes in this country, man.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: Baguettes

are one of the
better contributions

of the French
occupation of Vietnam.

Despite the humidity,
the baguettes

are remarkably fresh, with
crackling crust and tender

insides.

I've eaten some of
the best baguettes

I've ever had in Vietnam.

It feels quite wonderful
to get up in the morning,

to get onto a boat,
sail off to a market.

It's great.

This is the life.

I could go to a market by
boat every morning like this.

Yeah.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: I could

float around here all day.

But this water junket continues.

All right.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
We've got a date with a duck

somewhere up the river.

No more roads from here.

It's get into a long boat,
put put up a narrow canal,

deep, deep, deep into the delta.

Everything is laid
out her so precise,

that every little ladder,
every little walkway.

Very efficient, very smart.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: We are

to be the guests of a gentleman
farmer called Uncle Hai, who

is going to make us a
very traditional meal.

Jimi Hendrix in the background.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: The first thing

we hear is the feedback of
an electric guitar-- rather

incongruous, considering
where we are.

It sounded like some
experimental jazz.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: There

we are in the very
simple country

home of Uncle Hai and
his extended family.

He's got a few kids in there
playing electric guitar,

noodling away on an
ancient Fender Mustang.

[PLAYING GUITAR]

Did good.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: So were

greeted with tea, and a plate
pear-shaped fruits called

water apples.

It's kind of South.

Very crunchy, a lot of fiber.

I can't wait to meet the duck.

There's our victim.

Sorry, fella.

No, victims.

It's for a noble cause there.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
This is a traditional recipe,

created by workers
in the rice paddies

using resources
readily available.

You have ducks.

You have clay.

And you have kindling
wood to build a fire.

And the tradition continues.

Really, as we'd say
in French cuisine,

this is very old school.

The duck is killed first,
then wrapped entirely

in clay, innards and all.

And then it's
placed on the fire.

Barbecue is so last year.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
Very, very simple food.

Not a lot of technique here.

Like a beautiful
family experience.

There's five people
working on this.

You got the whole
family involved.

Five or six people were
working on the actual duck.

This is an event.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
All of the people from miles

around seem to be some part of
Uncle Hai's extended family--

some of them incredible faces
and incredible characters.

As we wait for our duck to cook,
more of them keep arriving.

This is grilling and chillin'.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: Can Tho

is a beautiful
city in the delta.

[ROOSTER CROWING]

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
An agricultural community

rooted in hard work
and physical labor.

It's farm country.

[PIG SQUEALING]

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: And I

think every farmer in
the delta has come out

for Uncle Hai's duck in clay.

Here we go.

You know, palm fronds.

The flavors must be
absolutely exquisite.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: I can

tell from the look
on Philippe's face,

he's thinking new restaurant--
Chez Duck in Clay,

maybe New York,
maybe South Beach.

My mind is racing
right now, trying

to imagine how to
do that in New York.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: All right.

This is smart.

When the clay is broken off,
the feathers come with it.

That is pretty cool.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
When dinner's ready,

they lay a tarpaulin
out on the front lawn.

We all squat down, and they
bring out the duck for me

to carve.

All right.

Here's the duck here.

Wow, look at this.

I recognize him.

They will turn him over first.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
Keep in mind there's no cutlery.

There are no napkins.

It looks like I'm
wrestling with the duck.

Before he was chef
he was surgeon.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: But I

managed to get the legs off
and the breast in fairly

good tableside
style, considering

I've got a plate the
size of a Chiclet.

First, I need another
plate to put this.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: I don't

know if that's how
they usually cut it.

They'll probably be talking
about this for a while.

OK, now here we're
getting to the good stuff.

This is it.

Oh yes.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
This duck was definitely

cooked without draining the
blood or removing the innards.

There's the blood in there.

It's true.

This is one of the best
cooked duck I ever seen.

Wow, OK, bravo.

This looks delicious.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
The clay cooking method

keeps it tender, and
gives it a smoky flavor.

So good.

The flavors here
are so wonderful.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: Pieces

of duck meat, the dismantled
carcass, and all else

that remains becomes part of
an incredible duck and banana

blossom soup.

Rich in texture, strong in
taste-- it's real hearty.

It's enough to feed
the whole crowd.

The smell is just
extraordinary.

There we go.

Very rich.

That's cooked for
quite a few hours.

Just remarkable.

It's beautiful stew right there.

It's so good to be here.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING: The
deadly Mekong Delta moonshine,

which comes out in two cola
bottles, this is rice whiskey,

the local homebrew, kind
of like white lightning.

Oh, that's good.

Here's looking at you, man.

Lot of strength there.

Wow.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
This stuff is dangerous.

There we go.

Down to the stomach, and
going up to the head.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
And it's even more dangerous

when you're the lone
American guest of honor.

You're something
of an attraction.

They all want to share a
shot with the American.

Cheers.

Cheers.

I'm honored.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: Some of them

want to see how much
the American can drink,

and if he could make
as much as them.

The guy who gives
me the most trouble,

though, is the one
directly across from me.

He looks as if
he's 98 years old.

He's blind in one eye.

He has no teeth.

And he can drink
me under the table.

This gentleman
here, I like him.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
OK, one more shot.

So I must have had 13
or 14 of these things.

And I'm dying at this
point, and so is Philippe.

[INAUDIBLE] in
about two seconds.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
It's an extraordinary experience

that just gets better and
better and more intoxicating

as the night goes on.

That's it.

I've had enough.

I have no question in my mind
that he is the stronger man.

There we go.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
And as it's dark,

with a single light
bulb, you know

you're deep, deep,
deep in the bush.

There's a singular,
riveting, beautiful moment

during this whole meal.

A man sings a
heartbreakingly earnest song.

[SINGING IN VIETNAMESE]

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
It's absolutely enchanting.

Looking over at the glazed
look on Philippe's face,

I suspect he is
similarly affected.

[APPLAUSE AND CHEERING]

There is everything here,
all the senses-- beauty,

the sweetness of
the air, the food.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
My belly is full.

My head is swimming.

Somebody take me to the river.

Tomorrow, Philippe's
off to New York.

And I'm heading north to the
beaches for some seafood.

But this is a night I
will not soon forget.

I've traveled from Can Tho to
Nha Trang, a sleepy fishing

community on Vietnam's
South Central Coast.

Life is very different up here.

Little oyster village where
I had my first oysters a lot

feels a lot like this.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: We're

going to see a
culture that revolves

around the sea and seafood.

You know you're in the
tropics when you're here.

I say it's safe
to surf this beach.

It's safe to surf this beach.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
I'm at the beach,

so I'm automatically happy.

I smell salt.

I feel sand.

And I see the surf.

Surf is up.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
So after kicking around

in the ocean, I'm
ready for some food.

I heard about this
cool floating dock,

where you pick your lunch
straight out of the water.

And fisherwomen are going
to shuttle me there.

114th Street and
Riverside Drive, please.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: I finally

get to ride in one
of those round boats.

It's essentially woven
strands of bamboo covered

with tar, surprisingly
seaworthy.

I like these women a lot.

They have a lot of
fun with the tourists.

And then one of
those bonding moments

happen when a gentleman
disembarks from my boat.

When he gets out onto the
dock, he stumbles badly,

and almost falls into the water.

And the two ladies
with me crack up.

We don't speak
the same language.

But we all know what
we're laughing about.

There's a shared joyous moment.

Now this isn't like
that skunky aquarium

at your local fish joint.

This is fresh, fresh, fresh.

Somebody feels like squid?

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: It's all stuff

they hauled in that day.

You just reach in.

There are lobsters, kind
of like the clawless spiny

lobster of the Mediterranean.

Incredible looking crabs, a
variety of fish still swimming

around, everything still alive.

I don't think I
can eat all of that.

OK, maybe one of these.

A nice, big lobster.

OK, take this guy.

Lunch.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: OK, this

may look like we're sitting
down for a typical lobster meal.

But we don't do
this in the states.

Jam a knife into the
lobster's sexual organs.

That's gotta hurt.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: Drain

what is referred
to as blood, which

is then poured into Hanoi vodka.

Cool.

I could get into this big time.

And of course it's going to
make me strong and feel good.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: The Vietnamese

believe that drinking animal
blood makes you more potent.

It tastes kind of like
sour milk and vodka.

Yeah, strong.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: It makes

you feel strong enough to tuck
in to a serious seafood meal.

Most of the kitchens in Nha
Trang are rudimentary at best.

But the seafood is
always first rate.

Recognize him?

We've been seeing a lot of that
cradle to the grave food here.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
This is not Red Lobster.

There's no butter here.

Now we're tucking in, with
a little pepper loosened up

into a paste with
some fresh lime juice.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
This is fried grouper,

finished with a spicy
red chili sauce.

This is how the pros do it.

Good stuff.

Oh man, that's criminally good.

Pass it down.

Almost all the tables you
see large group, six, eight,

ten people, all eating together.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
Locals and tourists,

whole families,
everybody's tucking

in like there's no tomorrow.

You make a mess.

You tunnel after
every good piece.

It's fun.

All the big tables look
like this afterwards.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
It looks like Stalingrad

after the war, with the
shells sucked clean,

picked over bones, stubbed out
cigarettes, discarded bottles.

Evidence of a good time.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: Detritus

of an invading army
left on the table.

Everybody wins.

That's what's great.

Except the lobster, he loses.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING: I'm
staying at the former summer

retreat of the last
Vietnamese emperor, Bao Dai.

He may be gone.

But one of his royal
dishes remains-- the much

sought after bird's nest soup.

The soup contains
hardened strands

of bird mucus, which
sea swallows use

to make their nests.

It's believed to be
an elixir of youth.

Choking down a
bowl of mucus isn't

something I'm
thrilled about doing,

since I still have that lobster
swimming around in my stomach.

You know, I'm bloated.

I feel like Orson Welles.

But the chef has been
working on this all day.

So I have to extend some
professional courtesy,

and rise to the occasion.

What was Emperor Bao Dai
thinking, eating this stuff?

Maybe if he'd eaten more at
Sizzler and less bird's nest

he would still be in power.

Nest harvesting is
a precarious venture.

Harvesters rappel down rock
faces to reach the nest,

steering clear of
the poisonous snakes.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
Not to be taken lightly,

the highly prized
bird's nest, which

is no bigger than
a child's hand,

is rare and difficult to obtain.

The motivation for
risking life and limb

is the high return on this.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING: It
can fetch up to $4,000 a pound.

Slight incline.

But believe me, it feels
like Kilimanjaro to me.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: Fortunately, I

won't be choking down
bird's mucus right away.

Bird's nest soup involves
a lengthy preparation.

So here's how this
royal dish breaks down.

A swallow's nest, quail eggs,
rock doves, medicinal herbs,

and a coconut.

First, drain the juice.

Separate the strands
of the bird's nest.

Hard cook and peel eggs.

Chop rock doves.

Season with salt,
pepper, shallots, ginger.

Soak the medicinal elements--
wolf berry, lotus root,

and silver ear mushrooms.

Pack all the ingredients
into coconut.

Add back the juice as
a base for the broth.

Then steam for five hours.

Birds nest soup
is highly revered

as traditional Chinese medicine.

Maybe this stuff will work.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
Because it cures God

knows what.

My lungs will clear up.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
Because it makes you strong.

No problem exercising.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: And because it

has therapeutic and
restorative qualities.

Give me that clear porcelain
complexion I always dreamed of.

This could usher in a whole
new period of my life.

This could be a good thing.

Thank you.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: Ah, bird's nest.

OK, so the strands
of mucus taste

like overcooked angel hair.

Actually, it doesn't taste bad.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING: And
the broth is pretty good too.

Sort of sweet and sour.

OK, so far so good.

It's the chunks I'm wary of.

I don't want to
know what that is.

Please, God, let
it be a chickpea.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: It tastes

like one of those Chinese
herbs, a little bitter.

I can live with this.

I'm relieved.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: So I'm

getting past the mucus
aspect, and all the chunks.

I'm thinking I'm home free.

So you can imagine my
surprise while tunneling

through this stuff
to see head and beak

come popping out at me.

That's our little friend.

Oh yeah, I recognize him.

That looks like a collar bone.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN
NARRATING: I knew

they used rock dove,
but the whole thing?

It's like something
out of "Evil Dead."

That's a real capper.

The broth was the best part.

And the nest wasn't
that bad after all.

But I wasn't feeling too
good after this stuff.

It did not make
me feel stronger.

I just feel utterly horrible.

How do you say
bromo-seltzer in Vietnamese?

ANTHONY BOURDAIN NARRATING:
It made me want to die.

The horror, the horror.

Never mind my moaning.

I've been completely seduced
by the Vietnamese cuisine,

and the life that surrounds it.

[MUSIC PLAYING]