A Cook's Tour (2002–…): Season 1, Episode 6 - Eating on the Edge of Nowhere - full transcript

Cambodia and Japan: Taking his obsession with the film Apocalypse Now a little too seriously, Tony sets out for Pailin reputed to be one of the most dangerous towns on earth. After his journey, Tony returns to Japan.

Welcome to my world.

Two escargot, pate,
frisee, two green salads.

OK, pan is hot here.

Lamb chops, steak
frites, shouldn't you

be doing something?

Two smoked filet
and a pepper steak.

Come on.

Make the dessert.

Chocolate tart please.

cook, tastes and smells

are my memories, and 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.

Traveling through Cambodia,
one can experience a wide array

of tastes, smells and textures.

From the mysterious
kelp-like Jell-O,

to fried insects
and little birds,

and some things
completely unidentifiable.

Today I'm starting
a two day journey

to an outpost on
the western edge

of the country near
Thailand for a little taste

of border town cuisine and life.

I've already decided
early on that

as part of my whole obsession
with "Apocalypse Now"

I want to go up river just
like they did in the movie

to the scariest place on Earth.

And I'm reliably informed that
the scariest place on Earth,

in Cambodia anyway, is the Khmer
Rouge stronghold of Pailin,

which until recently was
inaccessible to any Westerner.

OK, we're on the SS Minnow on
the first leg of our journey

to Pailin via Battambang.

Pailin is the place that some
genius recommended that I go.

And his description
of it at the time

was, "Oh, you'll
love this joint.

It's populated by black market
diamond merchants, timber

merchants, Khmer Rouge,"
and described it to me

as sort of like Bartertown
in "Mad Max" three.

Sounds pretty good to me.

And here's the kicker, this one
time Khmer Rouge model town is

these days the center
of vice and gambling.

And gambling means casino.

And casino means buffet, right?

So I think we're reasonably
sure we can get beef Wellington

there and escargot

Like all the casinos
have that, right?

Basically this
place was described

as sort of the last
place in the world that

at any sensible tourist
would want to go,

so naturally we're going there.

So we head out

across Lake Tonle Sap in
search of the river that'll

take us into the
heart of darkness.

My ride isn't the "Miami
Vice" cigarette boat

that I'd imagined.

But I've come prepared.

I've procured some imported
Western fare from my hotel.

All right, I picked this
little jewel of a recipe

up from Martha Stewart's last
TV special, Cambodian river

journey picnics.

You probably saw it.

First, dress a deck chair with
a red and white checkered scarf.

Borrow it from one of
your Khmer Rouge friends.

Then a little hard Italian
salami, some honey baked ham,

gently warmed Camembert,
and fresh baguettes,

all accompanied by a
crisp bordeaux blanc.

It really is a good thing.

We're pushing upriver at a good
clip, glimpsing snippets of day

to day river life.

It's all very relaxing,
so I take a little nap.

And that's when things turn.

We make an unscheduled
stop and pick up

three lads wearing olive drab,
three mysterious travelers.

Oh no, no, no, no, they
assure our skipper.

You don't want to go this way.

You want to take a shortcut.


The word shortcut
always fills me

with dread, especially
when it's sinister

looking guys in army fatigues.

Is he a cop?

Is he a disgruntled
ex Khmer Rouge?

Is he a mad man?

Is he going to stand
up, whip out a meat ax,

and start disemboweling me?

I'm thinking "Deliverance."

and farther we go upriver,

the more back into the Stone
Age we seem to be going.

People are living
in sticks and huts.

We don't get a lot of hellos
and waves and happy smiles.

I'm not liking this.

I don't know where
I'm going, and I'm

thinking if the propeller
fouls, if we get grounded,

I won't be seeing my
local American Express


I'm getting scared.


I wanted "Apocalypse Now."

How romantic, I get to go up
the river in search of Kurtz.

Hey, that was "The Love
Boat" compared to this.

I don't remember the episode
in "Gilligan's Island"

where Gilligan gets like,
kidnapped and killed.

Do you?

its best and its most vivid

is often a mixture of
fear of excitement.

By the time I hit Battambang,
I am both excited and afraid.

6 and 1/2 blistering hours
on a no-name river and we're

finally pulling into shore.

This [BLEEP] meal I'm
headed toward better

be a Michelin Star quality.

Well, we finally
reach Battambang,

which is about halfway
on our journey.

I'm pretty happy to see
dry ground at this point.

OK, we are on the
fabled road to Pailin,

which is intermittently a
moonscape and pool sized vats

of sort of a wet
chocolate brownie.

I'm told that cars can
disappear into these potholes

and never come out.

What was that sign?

The most heavily mined
part of the country

is the Battambang
and Pailin area.

But mines are a problem
all over Cambodia.

In short, do not stray
from well-marked paths

under any circumstances.

a little intimidating,

the frequency of
land mine warnings,

including particularly
lurid paintings

of the aftermath of
stepping on a land mine.

This is, uh, not the
Vince Lombardi rest stop.

Stick to the main run, seems
like a good idea, right?

down the road to Pailin,

there's I guess their
version of the truck

stop, a bunch of
the locals sitting

around watching Thai kickboxing.

It is very popular in
these parts, apparently.

And it seems like a
hospitable enough place

to tuck into some lunch.

I'm having a hearty
bowl of samlor,

a traditional Cambodian
one dish meal.

A little chopped pork, fresh
lemongrass, chicken broth,

and some homemade rice noodles,
a little green onion garnish,

and voila, lunch is served.

Bowl of noodles and pork.

splash of chili sauce

and a squeeze of lime
and I'm good to go.

It is good.

last bowl of noodle soup,

maybe the last of the
television set for a while,

then nothingness
until we hit Pailin.

All right, next.

Next stop, Caesars
Palace, Pailin style.

I've seen a lot of
livestock out here too,

so I figure we can get a
good steak by the pool.

I think this should
be pretty interesting,

and I'm looking forward
to that rubdown.

It's bouncing around
a lot in here.

Maybe a Caesar salad, I don't
know, maybe a Nicoise salad,

what do you think?

Dressing on the side.

a two day journey, which

began on a nameless river and
gave way to one hellish road.

We've just driven 75
miles in 4 and 1/2 hours.

We're 15 miles from
the Thai border,

and we've finally reached the
literal and proverbial end

of the road, Pailin.

I can't wait to sink my
teeth into some of that beef

Wellington at the casino buffet.

All right, all right,
listen, Las Vegas

looked a little rough
too, you know, early on.

It used to be a
one-hotel town right?

The Flamingo, that was it.


It's a frontier town,

and like most border
towns, it's a little rough,

and it's a little rugged.

You know the story.

It plays out like
that cowboy movie.

You know.

New guy in town walks
into the saloon.

The doors swing open, and
everybody in the saloon

turns around and
gives a hostile look.

That's the feeling
I get in Pailin.

All right, the action
in this one horse town

is probably back at the
hotel, the Hang Meas,

the only hotel in town.


OK, it's not exactly
Caesars Palace.

There is the sinister foot
stains on the wall there.

I admit that's a little
creepy, and that kind of fluid

over there I see.

I, I, I find that the tile
is a little unsettling too,

you know, like, this and
the place in Battambang,

they seem to be designed to be
hosed down quickly and easily.

I gather how this works is
you stand here by the bowl

and just sort of,
like, hose yourself

and the whole bathroom down.

I'm guessing this is soap.

At first I thought
it was a condom,

but uh, it's kind of mushy,
so I'm hoping it's soap.

And the casino's not
exactly on the roof.

Apparently it's about uh,
30 clicks outside of town.

And I'm told we
can't shoot there,

uh, as we might
ourselves get shot.

But hey, we've

still got the fine
outdoor restaurant.

All right, let's rock.

be something happening there.

Here we are, lost
in Margaritaville.

Um, apparently the, our dreams
of a destination resort,

a dirt track, go karts,
swinging casinos,

Sigfried and Roy
have been dashed.

So it looks, uh, it looks
like I'll be eating Thai food

and watching, God help
me, "Cop and a Half"

with Burt Reynolds on the
tube here during my meal.

Ray Sharkey's in this too.

This is like, both the good guy
and the bad guy in this film

have like, freakishly
bad toupees.

I mean, you know, I'm ashamed
of being a junkie in my past,

but, you know, I don't
have that under my belt.

it's not the Cambodian Las

Vegas I've been promised.

But seeing as though
we're on the Thai border,

the food should be
pretty interesting.

While the two countries
use similar ingredients,

the Thai cuisine
is far more intense

when it comes to flavor.

The turmeric and cumin
seem to jump out at you.

I'm having spicy Thai chicken,
curry, ground peanuts,

a little salt and
sugar, and scallions,

all stir-fried together.

I'm also having a very
traditional Thai soup,

tom yum, fresh chopped
lemongrass and ginger,

which is simmered
in a chicken broth.

Shrimp from the Gulf
of Thailand, I hope,

is quickly boiled.

Coconut milk is
added, and the soup

is finished with chili
oil and fish sauce.

While both Cambodian
and Thai cuisine

have a really nice balance of
sweet, sour, salty, and bitter,

it's the Thai food
that brings the heat.

The chili really lifts it.

All right, this
isn't all that bad,

but it's not the casino
buffet I'd hoped for.

The earliest moment
tomorrow morning,

we're going to slink into our
four wheel drive and beat,

beat the hell out of here.

Bon appetit.

with its rich and tragic

history, is both
unnerving and rewarding.

The Khmer people radiate
charm and determination.

And the cuisine,
with its subtle use

of spices and aromatic
herbs, is truly memorable.

But next time I'm told about
some border town meal I just

have to check out, I think
I'll stay home and order it in.

Next stop, Japan for a
change of pace and taste.

Japan seems light years
away from the western edge

of Cambodia.

And I'm going to
need to slide back

into things slowly, a
decompression period,

if you will.

I'm just not ready for an
elaborate Japanese dining


But my guide and
translator, Shinji,

assures me he has
just the thing,

something familiar,
yet something

different at the
same time, soba.

Soba, as I understand
it, is an everyday food.

It's a fairly casual
thing, yet again it's

taken very seriously.

There's good soba.

There's mediocre soba.

There's bad soba.

And there's really,
really good soba.

This is really,
really good soba.

Soba differs from
Western style pastas.

It's richer in
taste, less porous,

and it doesn't depend on
sauces to give it flavor.

If you look at the seriousness
with which this stuff is made,

the delicacy with
which it's handled,

the technique and the skill of
the chef who is preparing it,

it's a pretty impressive sight.

What's gone in there so far?

Buck-- like buckwheat flour?

Buckwheat flour.



Must build strong wrists.

People who are expert at
working with the dough

seem to handle it very casually.


You know, very, nuck, nuck,
nuck, makes it look easy.

It's not.

If I were doing this, it,
the dough would be breaking.

It would stick to the pan.

I would be crying.

Right now it looks
like pie dough.

It's, I mean, that's thin and
really delicate at this point.


I mean, look, you can
see, like, the frame.

Look how thin that is.

Look, reverse roll it,
working with phyllo dough

at this point.

The man slices.

When he picks up this
knife and starts cutting it

into absolutely perfect
identical ribbons,

like hand cutting linguine.

So it's thinner than linguine.

Hand cutting angel
hair, capellini.

But I I've seen some
master pasta makers,

you know, guys who
make garganellis,

they make fettuccine, and
of course uh, flat pasta.

And I was just absolutely blown
away by how good they were

and how quick.

But I mean, look at that.

I mean, that's filament thin and
uniform, every strand the same.

I would just love
to, like, you know,

all expenses paid get this
guy on a plane to New York,

bring him down to, uh,
like an Italian restaurant

and just, and do this in
front of some pasta cooks.

He'd probably be able
to do that while he's

sleeping, ha, incredible.

Going to go in the box.

That's impressive.

freshly prepared soba

is then gently placed in boiling
water for a mere 30 seconds,

then shocked in cold
water for a minute.

It's carefully
separated and plated.


of the favorite ways

to serve it is, as in this
case, cold, at which point

it is lifted-- and just a
quick dip-- dunked into a hot,

in this case duck broth
with chunks of duck meat,

a little bit of scallion,
and fresh grated wasabi.

It's fabulous, very subtle, but
at the same time a very hearty

and warming dish.

Mmm, ooh, that's good.

And that's appropriate?

Dip and then [SLURPING
NOISE] slurp?


Slurping is good, OK.

Mmm, Look, got a
nice pitch there,

got a great consistency too.

This is really a treat.

It's really good.

That's so good.

Nothing like it.

just the comfort food

I was looking for.

When one thinks of Japan,
one thinks of formality.

You know, proper etiquette.

But actually, just
beneath the surface,

there's a great
casualness and ease.

You can just slink
down these back alleys,

just follow your nose,
and find a great meal.

The scent of yakatori
fills the air.

Yakatori refers to simple
grilled skewered items,

kind of snack like,
like a shish kabob.

The distinctive flavor
comes from a marinade

made of sugar, soy sauce and
mirin, a sweet rice wine.

There are whole neighborhoods
here filled with yakatori joint

after yakatori joint.

The entire neighborhood
smells of yakatori.

You know when you're
getting close.

Generally, the places
that serve yakatori

are fairly informal,
very popular with,

and catering largely to
businesspeople who have just

gotten off work and want to
grab a few beers or some sake.

We're at a businessmen's
yakatori joint, um,

you know, a light
snack accompanied

by generous amounts of alcohol,
a place to stop off after work

and have a good time.

This is the sort of
place I would hang out

in much too much if
I lived in Tokyo.

This is the sort of place
I would get off from work,

I'd come here, and I would hang
out much later than I should.

And I would come home drunk.

really lucky at this joint.

I sit down, and
almost immediately

a large table of
Japanese businesspeople

sit, down start drinking,
pull my table over,

and start buying rounds.

Food tastes better in a
comfortable environment.

This is perfect.

They start ordering up,

it seems, everything
on the menu.

I feel right at home right away.

24 hours ago in
Pailin, I was greeted

with steely stares
and cold shoulders.

Now I'm embraced.

I'm just another salary
man out for a good time.

This is uh, like, elbow
cartilage from the chicken.

And it doesn't sound
good, frightening

to the Western mind.

I've been told ahead of
time that this is something

I should have, so
I'm not scared.

But it has the chewiness
and the consistency

of calamari, that's what, and
really flavorful, crunchy.

This is like a
meatball but chicken.

Uh, ground chicken,
it's a specialty

of the house I understand, mmm.

This is, you know, kind of
like a big Italian meal,

uh, you know, same thing.

Everybody's sitting around,
talking, and drinking,

and eating, controlled chaos.

Sake pouring is yet

another little thing
I had to learn.

Somebody pours you sake,
you pour it back for them.

This can lead to a breaking
of social barriers,

good conversation-- I will try
that-- and serious inebriation.

It's a very unusual experience.

Nothing like this has happened
to me in Tokyo before.

It's enormously gratifying
and a lot of fun.

So as I stumble away
from the yakatori joint,

I'm reminded that, just as in
Cambodia, it's the simple food

and the casual
dining experiences

that are often the most
satisfying and surprisingly