And while his meal with President Obama is certainly a highlight, it’s only one part of a show that takes Bourdain from the scooter-filled streets of Hanoi to Halong Bay and then back again.
“There is no other way to see this city, Hanoi, than from a motorbike or a scooter. To do otherwise would be to miss it all,” says Bourdain (wearing a helmet) in the episode’s opening montage of bikes streaming across crowded city streets.
Bikes are everywhere in Bourdain’s Hanoi, as are small plastic chairs at restaurants, food you want to eat, and cold beer. Bourdain has been to Hanoi for his television programs before, so he connects with old friends to talk about the rapid change the country is going through, spurred on in part by a growing inbound international tourism sector. They talk about a new local fondness for KFC, the growing ubiquity of luxury shops including Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs, and the pervasiveness of mobile Internet use. And tai chi in the park now has to compete for space with open-air zumba classes.
The host doesn’t get a great amount of screen time with Obama but it’s enough to help take viewers out of the current political environment and think about the president as a human being who enjoys a bowl of bun cha and a cold beer just like any normal person. And as someone who has strong opinions about hot dogs.
Bourdain’s conversations with Obama are a reminder that the president is no stranger to Asia. Standing outside a market where throngs have gathered in the rain for a look at the president, Obama tells Bourdain, “Markets like this I grew up with when I was a kid in Jakarta. This is the only market available. I wouldn’t mind going in there and haggling and see what I could find.” Once at the restaurant, a neighborhood joint that may one day hang an “Obama Ate Here” sign if they ever stop being so busy, Obama tells Bourdain about eating at a restaurant outside of Jakarta where fish would be plucked from a stream, grilled and served on beds of rice.
And while the leader of the free world is more than adequate as with a pair of chopsticks, he isn’t afraid to show his Chicago side, as is clear from the following exchange:
Bourdain: “Is ketchup on a hot dog ever acceptable?”
Obama: “No. No, I mean that.”
It’s said with such a determination that Heinz should watch out for a last-minute Executive Action before Obama leaves office in January.
The nine-episode season runs through the fall and also features tours of Nashville, Sichuan, London, Houston, Japan, Minas Gerais, Buenos Aires, and Rome.
You can watch clips from the episode at CNN.