No Reservations: Sri Lanka
By Skiz Fernando, cultural attaché
- INTERIOR MOHAMMED\’S EATERY, COLOMBO, SRI LANKA – DAY
One of the many eating houses in the Pettah, Colombo\’s main marketplace, provides the backdrop for mine and Tony\’s first Sri Lankan meal, a hearty breakfast of String Hoppers (steamed rice noodles); paripoo, or red lentils stewed in coconut milk; pol sambol, a spicy condiment of fresh shredded coconut laced with lime juice, salt and chili powder; chili fish curry, potato curry and sour fish curry. We have just slogged our way through the crowded and chaotic central fish market around the corner, and I, having prudently bypassed the lavish breakfast buffet at the stately Galle Face Hotel, our home away from home this week, have worked up a healthy appetite that neither the oppressive heat nor the condensed-milk tea we\’re sipping can kill.
In an instant the table is covered with a colorful, edible tapestry-the yellow-tinged potato curry, shaded with turmeric, contrasting against fiery red fish gravy and orange coconut sambol, black sour fish and white rice noodle nests. I waste no time, quickly using up all real estate on my plate, but when I peek at Tony\’s, it\’s looking pretty zen. As a fan of the show, my mind\’s eye flashes back to an episode like Montreal, where Bourdain was practically mainlining foie gras as the mischievous chef sent him a flurry of rich main courses, which Tony scooped down his pie-hole like a trooper. Was this the same Tony Bourdain, Mouth Almighty, The Walking Stomach, King of Street Food? Or did they cheat on TV, and just make it look like he eats a lot? That\’s certainly not what the producers told me when I signed on. Worse yet: What if he doesn\’t like the food? I considered it an honor and a pleasure to introduce a serious eater like Tony to the cuisine of my homeland, and if he just didn\’t dig it, I would have felt really bad. These thoughts were the subtext as we spoke casually about the meal for the cameras. Afterwards I asked him:
Tony, so how you feeling, man? Everything cool?
Yeah, man. But I\’ve had this thing since before we left New York.
Some kind of bug or something.
Oh, no. For real?
Of course, it didn\’t help that the lady in the next seat was coughing all over me all the way from Kuwait City. But yeah, I can\’t seem to keep anything down.
It suddenly dawned on me that even a job as perfect as his-to travel the world and sample her exotic delights-had its own pitfalls. What if you were hot and jetlagged and afflicted with a serious head cold that impeded your olfactory senses? What if you were so sick you couldn\’t even keep any food down? What if you just didn\’t feel like eating and had to plow through three or four heavy meals in a day? Things to think about when you eat for a living. Nevertheless, this was a food and travel show, and with only six days of shooting, the show must go on.
Thankfully, it did, without a hitch. After Tony\’s stomach settled down, and we plied him with a few alcoholic beverages for good measure, the man I knew from the TV screen returned in fine form. Not only that, but he genuinely enjoyed each successive meal more than the one before it. In fact, I noticed that the whole crew-Producer Tom, Segment Producer Jared, and Jerry and Todd, the cameramen — all loaded up on the Sri Lankan specialties every morning at the breakfast buffet, not to mention scarfing down all the food that Tony and I ate on camera, as well. And these guys can take the heat from all the chili-laden dishes, which I\’ve never seen gringos handle so well. Of course, Tony gets extra points for making it through those first few meals, which probably went straight through him.
For more about the \”No Reservations\” Sri Lanka trip, check out my own blog at Riceandcurry.wordpress.com.