As this season of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown rolls along, we’re met with some hard truths about our society, existence, and planet. Last week we saw Bourdain in Pittsburgh asking how a blue collar working class, built around industries that no longer exist, can transition into the future. This week saw Bourdain traipsing into the northern reaches of Sri Lanka to get the Tamil side of the nearly three-decade-long Sri Lankan Civil War.
The episode dealt with a conflict few (if any of us) register on our collective radar. The battle between the Hindu Tamil Tigers — who win the best army name ever contest — and the Buddhist Sinhalese majority government forces ended up killing 100,000 people by 2009, when the war finally ceased.
It’s been eight years and it would seem that Sri Lanka is putting itself back together and starting to take a sobering look back on the last 40 years of its history — which feels like the perfect time for someone like Bourdain to show and start talking to people.
The episode wasn’t all history. As per usual, there was an exciting snapshot of Sri Lankan cuisine from the island nation’s capital and a segment up north, around Jaffna, where the Tamil majority makes their home.
Along the way, Bourdain learns a solid truth about Sri Lankan food. “Ask anyone in Sri Lanka where to find the best food and they’ll say nobody cooks as well as ‘aunty,'” Bourdain decodes. “And it’s true — trust me. Often possessing the strength of 10 men, Sri Lankan aunties are a force to be reckoned with.” But more on that later.
So let’s dive into where Bourdain ate, drank, and conversed in this illuminating episode of CNN’s ‘Parts Unknown.’
Nelum Kole, Colombo
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The best local food on the island is often found in the most rustic of places… This is one of my favourite bath kades for traditional Lankan food. You get to pick your curries and sambols and eat by hand sitting next to locals at one of the wooden tables. And it's dirt cheap… Lunch or dinner starting at Rs.180 for the vegetarian choices and more if you want seafood or meat.
Bourdain kicks off his culinary and history lessons by chowing down on some chicken curry, spiced potato, beetroots, and plenty of rice at Nelum Kole. This hole-in-the-wall in Colombo — on Slave Island — prides itself on super traditional Sri Lankan fare done classically. And, by the looks of it, deliciously.
The whole meal is a great insight into the vibrance of color and flavor that epitomizes Sri Lankan food.