SuperTalk Mississippi

Review: Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” Surprisingly Open-Minded About Miss.

NEW YORK CITY, N.Y.–If you didn’t see the Anthony Bourdain Show Parts Unkown on CNN Sunday night, you should probably set your DVR for the next time it comes on. Bourdain traveled across the Delta and Jackson and Oxford for the show, looking for Mississippi’s best food, but also for the heart of what makes us tick.

The show is on for an hour on Sunday nights and is part of a new breed of programming at CNN, where 40 journalists were recently let go to make way for hipper shows, like Bourdain’s.

“Is Mississippi more racist than New York?’ is the question he started with. Bourdain presented no hypothesis either way, save to say that his preconceived notion was that Mississippi had a violent past and that was what immediately came to his mind when he planned his trip.

Now, if you like pig ear sandwiches and seeing a hog get his head hacksawed off, Sunday’s show certainly delivered.

Bourdain’s visit included places that you might expect him to visit, like having fried okra and conversation at Senator’s, with state Sen. Willie Simmons, and a night a Poor Monkey’s, near Cleveland, and places you might not have expected to see, like Big Apple Inn on Farish St. in Jackson.

That’s where the show opened, and where you can get a pig ear sandwich.

“Parts Unknown”, at its heart, is a food show, but Bourdain uses food to explore the culture and landscape of the places he visits.

For instance, hot tamales were used as a connection between Jackson and the Delta, with places he visited in both areas serving the Mississippi version. They got here when migrant Mexican workers came in to replace black workers who had headed north for car factories in Detroit.

“Hot tamales are about as Mississippi as they are Mexican,” said Bourdain.

One area where Bourdain was really able to connect food and culture was a visit to Lusco’s of Greenwood, where you dine in private booths and where the menu was once read to you by waiter Booker Wright, who recited it for an NBC documentary in 1956. Bourdain’s show included the footage.

“Now that’s what my customers, I say my customers are expecting from me,” he said. “Some people nice. Some is not. Some call me Booker. Some call me John. Some call me Jim. Some call me nigger. All of that hurts but you have to smile. The meaner the man be the more you have to smile, even though you’re crying on the inside.

“You’re wondering what else can I do. Sometimes he’ll tip you, sometimes he’ll say, ‘I’m not gonna tip that nigger, he don’t look for no tip.’ I say, ‘Yes sir, thank you.’  I’m trying to make a living.”

Bourdain’s conclusion was that Mississippi is probably no more racist than anywhere else, these days. It was a conclusion he made after a trip through Oxford, the Delta and Jackson, dining in both black and white establishments and eating and talking with both black and white Mississippians.

Bourdain found out and expressed t a national audience what so many of us already know, that Mississippi’s past does not have to be an indicator for its future.

The only problems that I had with the show is that he didn’t visit some places that are vital to our food culture, like having a slug burger, or visiting some of the joints that aren’t on tourist maps.

He also kept a posse throughout the show that included chef John Currence, among others, and did not address the owners or proprietors of the establishments without the input or notions of his company.

You’ll have to remember to set that DVR for the rerun, though. It’s a well-worth-it trip.

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