No Reservations: Tony Gets His Greek On

While most travel shows would take us to the Acropolis, on tours of historical neighborhoods, to ancient statues and monuments, and to bakeries that serve up spinach pie in any episode devoted to Greece, Anthony Bourdain promptly takes us to the blood and guts of the culture. That’s right, last night’s No Reservations said screw the ancient ruins and, instead, showed us how lambs are slaughtered Greek-style. Opah!

The scene I’m referring to just may have turned me into a vegetarian (wait, maybe not, okay I had a turkey sandwich for lunch today), or at the very least, into someone who will avoid eating lamb for a long, long time.

Anthony arrived in Crete to meet his friend and fellow food writer, Byron, for dinner. Soon after making some politically incorrect, yet funny, cultural observations – for example, that people in Greece have more “chunkitude” than Americans and wear clothes that look like “a Dress Barn exploded” – Anthony started to eat. Firstly, at a patio café where he indulged in tripe soup (that smelled like wet dog, but apparently tasted good), fried fish, chickpeas in olive oil and lemon, fried sweetbreads and sautéed greens. And then things got gory from there...

Anthony and company then ventured to a “picnic” where the main event was slaughtering the lamb. We saw the cute, furry guy standing up one minute, and then within a few more moments, he was fleeced, stabbed, broken apart, cut into pieces and put on skewers for grilling, and had his intestines washed out and stuffed with its diced spleen. Um, okay, I won’t go on… I watched all of this like I watch horror movies -- with a pillow in front of my face.

Apparently (as I heard them say), the lamb was delicious. No doubt because it was sooo fresh.

The killings didn’t end there. Next, Anthony traveled to Zakynthos, a town 20 miles outside of Crete. There we learned that Greeks who live in the countryside really do grow and kill their own food in their backyards. Anthony was handed several shotguns as the group headed out to get quail for supper; though Anthony's less-than-perfect shots ended up obliterating the bird he shot and it had to be left behind as a sort of sacrificial killing. Also slaughtered in the 60-minute episode were more lambs (and we saw more of their innards), several fish, a goat, and a cute furry rabbit, whose parts appeared later braised in a dish made with onions, spices, and wine.

Though Anthony kept trying to avoid it and asked for Ouzo instead, his Greek hosts kept pouring him more and more Raki -- which is the local equivalent of moonshine, or what Anthony calls "battery acid.” A hearty portion of the episode was devoted to revealing what makes Greek cuisine the healthiest in the world; scientific studies have shown that Greeks can easily live to be 100 years old (though, according to Anthony, many of the people in Greece look like they already are 100. Ouch!). The locals and scientists alike chalk up this longevity to Greeks' consumption of olive oil and field greens. But what about all that feta cheese and lamb?

Anthony seemed a little more put off than usual by the strange behaviors of the natives in the strange land he was visiting. When the men launched into an Irish-looking jig dance after the lamb-slaughtering picnic, he quipped, “Who invited Michael Flatley? Taxi. Taxi!” True: it was weird to see all the macho behavior (hunting, drinking moonshine, shooting off firearms) followed up by line dancing and handholding. Maybe Anthony was just getting pissy cause it was difficult for him to be surrounded by all those cigarette smokers, when he has just quit the habit after 38 years.

Anthony gave us his thoughts not just on Greece this week, but on the relationship between music and food in an interview he gave to Chicago Public Radio’s Sound Opinions. It’s worth a download if you’re a fan of Anthony Bourdain, mostly so you can get his tips on what music to play during a dinner party. (Hint: no heavy metal; something ambient will usually do.)

Next week: Anthony travels to New Orleans in what looks to be an amazing episode where we’ll learn how the city is rebuilding its food culture post-Katrina. Stay tuned!