Skift Take

Old news reels intermixed with gorgeous images of local landscape and people, an open and honest conversation about socioeconomics and politics, and a plate full of food -- these are the ingredients to one of this season's best episodes yet.

Bourdain humbly admits how wrong his preconceptions of South Africa were after a trip into the country’s heart and largest city — Johannesburg.

This Sunday’s episode of Parts Unknown was quintessential Bourdain. It gave viewers a brief but honest history of a destination that too few Americans understand and sought answers about its future with a diverse set of locals.

The viewer is right alongside Bourdain as he tries to understand just exactly what Nelson Mandela means to the people still living in his old neighborhood of Soweto and how one of the more developed nations of Africa attracts people from around the continent.

Bourdain first meets with the Black Jacks, a local band that opened for the 2010 World Cup, in an “eat house.” These spots were once cladenstine bars set up in garages and backyards during apartheid.

Over a meal of sheep’s head and corn meal porridge, two band members explain the tense times in which South Africa currently finds itself.

The party that once freed the country is no longer universally loved prompting one man to ask, “How do you deal with so many opinions when the party that you loved…is fumbling the ball? What do you do?”

His reference to a soccer ball is common in South Africa, a country like much of the world that is enamored withe the sport.

Johannesburg’s Changing Landscape

As the country’s politics have changed, so has its landscape.

Bourdain takes a walk through Hillbrow, once an elitist white business district that later became one of the most dangerous spots in the city. Although the crew’s cameras attract some unwanted attention, the area is no longer as violent as it once was.

Nearby, Bourdain visits a cook shop where a “gastronomic smuggler” mixes flavors that come from around the world. He serves beef stew with melon and pumpkin seeds, falafel, porridge, and a listening ear to anyone who stops by his store. With no seats or tables, guests spill into the streets where they eat and socialize.

Bourdain also accompanies a taxi driver to the suburbs of Soweto. The area started as a workers’ housing community and turned into the center of resistance to white rule in the 1950s. It bred international heroes like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu and the pride that people feel for the area is evident. It is not a ritzy neighborhood, but an emerging middle class keeps it immaculate.

We Go On

Bourdain’s last stop is the NeighborGoods Market where over a burger of flattened ground beef and hot peppers he marvels at the integration of South Africa’s once starkly segregated population. He says that it appears South Africa has done an even better job than America at fostering a space for citizens of all races to mix and mingle.

His last attempt to understand what South Africa will become without Mandela is met with optimism from his companion, a local reporter.

“We go on. I think the foundation is laid. And thank god we have him as a symbol… The divisions are there, but they are not as big as our hopes.”

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Tags: anthony bourdain, cnn, parts unknown, south africa

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