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Anthony Bourdain Talks World Street Food Congress, 'Parts Unknown'

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ANTHONY BOURDAIN
AP

Love him or hate him, Anthony Bourdain is the baddest food (and travel) dude on the block. After wrapping up the ninth season of "No Reservations" on the Travel Channel, Bourdain migrated to CNN where he now hosts "Parts Unknown," which will "examine cultures from around the world through their food and dining and travel rituals." In the premiere episode, Bourdain headed to Myanmar where he sought to uncover what, exactly, Burmese food is, and how food culture evolved through the country's conflict.

It's no secret that, especially when traveling through Asia, Bourdain is an outspoken advocate for the virtues of chowing down on street food. So, it comes as no surprise that in addition to the new show, he's pulling double duty as an ambassador for and speaker at the inaugural World Street Food Congress beginning May 31. We caught up with Bourdain to learn all about this new venture, as well as get the scoop on what to expect this season on "Parts Unknown."

HuffPost Travel: What is the World Street Food Congress?
Anthony Bourdain: It’s a celebration, symposium, conference, demonstration and venue for street food from all over the world. It's being held, signifigantly, among the culture that has been the most progressive towards, and most accepting of, street food. Singapore is a country that is very unusual in the sense that rich or poor, whatever your income level, you have powerful attachment to and feelings about street food. They've been very forward thinking about making sure that street food remains an important part of the culture, but they've been very smart about promoting it as well. What I think this event is hoping to do is to have the kind of conversation they had in Singapore, when they moved street vendors into hawker centers, on a global scale.

HPT: What exactly is your involvement?
AB: Well, first of all, any excuse to go to Singapore and stuff my face full of hawker food is always a happy one. I think that for quite some time I've had a good relationship with Singapore. I've been a very vocal supporter and advocate for the place that street food has in their culture and the way they've managed to accommodate concerns. For me it’s a cause.

HPT: Why don't you think we have a vibrant street food culture in the U.S.?
AB: There’s a huge hunger for it, there’s no doubt about that. I think some communities have embraced it and celebrated their more forward-thinking innovators. San Francisco has been cool, they've seen it as an instrument of social change by empowering immigrant communities. Portland, Oregon has embraced it, Austin, Texas, has a really interesting street food culture. Some places like New York have really resisted. They've fought it tooth and nail and see it as a threat to brick and mortar restaurants. It's also a generational thing in a way. They don’t want hipsters lined up outside their doors. It’s the “get off my lawn” factor.

HPT: Would something like a hawker center work in U.S. cities?
AB: I think it would be an answered prayer for New York and many other communities. People who would have never been in the business introduced themselves to the world because they were able to do it with food trucks. What’s wonderful about food trucks is that they’re democratic and they allow creative people to [emerge] and get their product out there when they never would have been able to do that in a brick and mortar situation.

HPT: Why are you so passionate about street food?
AB: I think of it as the antidote to fast food; it’s the clear alternative to the king, the clown and the colonel. It’s faster and chances are it’s healthier than something at a traditional fast food restaurant. I would much rather give my money to a neighbor or an individual than to a gigantic corporation that owns half the world. Maybe it’s naïve of me, but I prefer food made by an identifiable human that’s actually cooking.

HPT: What's your favorite kind of street food?
AB: Give me some spicy noodles... I love a good mutant hot dog... street tacos make me very very happy. I’m very open. It depends on where I am, but I want it.

HPT: What makes a good street food stall?
AB: If you’re standing in a rural village in Puebla, Mexico and there’s a whole line of locals waiting to get a particular taco, and not so many at the stand down the street, that’s a pretty good indicator.

HPT: What can we expect from your new show, "Parts Unknown"?
AB: I’m going to continue to do what I've been doing, which is basically traveling around the world doing stand alone essays on food and culture and drinking, and just doing it on a bigger and slightly more challenging scale. I’m going to a lot of places that I wouldn't have been able to go with another network. We’re doing shows on more niche, interesting and provocative subject settings that I think other networks were uncomfortable with.

HPT: How have you and your storytelling evolved from "A Cook's Tour" to "Parts Unknown"?
AB: I've been working with camera people, cinematographers and editors, so I’m much more aware of the collaborative process of making and producing television. Over time I've gotten better and more comfortable about working with them. I’m aware of what [the video] might look like in editing as we’re shooting it, so I guess I’m better at the technical aspects of putting together a story on video.

HPT: What are your favorite episodes?
AB: I just saw the rough cut from the Libya show. I’m really, really excited about that. It was incredibly difficult to do, and when you work really hard in a difficult situation, it’s satisfying to see that it’s turning out great. It’s far exceeded my wildest hopes. Right now I think it’s the best thing I've ever done.

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