Although I had heard of Anthony Bourdain many times in the past, I did not become a fan of his until you came into my life. I don’t exactly know why, but I think it had something to do with you introducing me to the joys of cable TV.
The year was 2014. We had only been dating for a couple of months but decided to live together, anyway. I was originally planning on having my own place in the City of Manila, preferably somewhere close to where you were residing. Yet, you thought it would be much better if I’d simply move in with you. Your parents were okay with it, after all. Having been aware of how steep Metro Manila apartment rental fees were, I accepted your proposition. Shortly after that, were already living under the same roof, sharing meals, and watching the same shows on TV.
Before that, my idea of television was limited to the shows produced and aired by mainstream networks. While I was not too fond of those programs, I had developed a sense of familiarity with them. I was well aware of how convoluted a teleserye plots could be, especially when ratings were high and the producers felt the need to stretch the story line just to make more money. Same thing went for talk shows. I always thought of them as shallow and substandard. Even after years of watching them, almost on a regular basis because the house I grew up in always had the TV for the sake of having a background noise, I failed to understand the point of seemingly endless blabbers made by hosts while cooking dishes or while visiting random restaurants and other tourist destinations.
Unquestionably, lifestyle shows on cable TV seemed like blessing from heavens to me. Finally, something with substance. I was especially amazed by Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. I admired how great of a storyteller he was, and how his features defied formats usually employed by other television personalities. I also liked how he respected different cultures and how humble he was each time he had to interact with people from the places he was visiting.
One of the episodes I could not forget about was the one on Glasgow. It was, to me, as truthful as truthful could get. Instead of going for the usual cheap tricks other hosts usually resorted to using, he chose to present the place as honestly as possible: He showed how dark and bland the place seemed and why, for many, this wasn’t considered a viable tourist destination at all. But of course, he also told about the beauty he found in it — all those lovely little things that made it unique. Sure, it had a lot to do with food.
You were so glad to welcome me into the fandom as I grew fonder and fonder of him, and as I became more familiar with his works, too. Then, eventually, you told me about Kitchen Confidentials, something you had read and learned a lot from. It was, according to you, what taught you about why one should not order fish at any restaurant on a Monday. It was also where you learned how blasphemous well-done steak was. These revelations intrigued me, so I picked up the book.
The next thing we knew, we were treating it as our bible. All of a sudden, our decisions on what to eat and where were affected by the bits of knowledge we had acquired while reading this book. There were even times when you’d call me out for my “boring” and “too safe” food choices. Shame on me, you would say. I had to explore and strive to become an educated eater so as to uphold the teachings of Bourdain, our hero.
It was fun, I must admit. It has changed me for the better. From the overly picky and dreary eater that I used to be, I finally started trying new things out. I no longer asked for well-done steak; I stopped myself from fancying dishes whose meat swam in too much sauce, knowing how chefs typically used those rich liquids to conceal flaws and lies. I also tried to suppress my seemingly endless fascination with chicken, especially when eating out. Chicken meat, after all, was all about playing safe. In other words, boring.
With all those bits of new wisdom inside my head, I also became more open to try out different cuisines. I graduated from being the pasta girl and braved Korean restaurants in Malate, finally able to appreciate the beauty of unlimited sides. I also became a bit more daring to try other dishes at Japanese restaurants and broke up with karaage, which had been my go-to order.
I even agreed to go to a Greek restaurant in Makati once. Although its pretentious atmosphere had irked me upon entering the establishment, I soldiered on. I valiantly asked for the menu, thrown quick yet sensible questions about dishes at the server, and ordered what I thought I’d enjoy. As soon as the food landed on our table, we looked into each other’s eyes and sent each other a message: Victory!
Our cooking habits changed. Since we were eager to prove how much we were learning, we started buying spices and ensured each of them was used with the right type of meat or in the correct dishes. We also tried, as much as we could, to buy ingredients from nearby wet and dry markets, instead of the big supermarkets around the area.
We also became more appreciative of the people behind the meals we ate at restaurants. Now aware of the preparation process, as well as the struggles usually faced by the people involved in the food industry, we waited for our orders more patiently, said “thank you” to the servers more often, and gave bigger tips.
Like many other things, food kept us close and made our relationship stronger. Our shared commitment to educate ourselves on food and the different processes involving it gave us something to hold on to and nourish, besides our feelings.
However, it came to a point when our shared enthusiasm for food could no longer save us. Perhaps, we simply grew apart. When not trying out interesting dishes or conjuring meals together, we were nothing but two different people with different sets of values and priorities.
Remember the last food trip we had together? It happened on your birthday in 2017. We ate tofu at Quik Snack along Carvajal Street and downed a platter of Kutchay dimsum at Dong Bei. Then we shared half an order of Sincerity fried chicken. For our finale, we both had coffee at The Den along Escolta.
It seemed like a perfect day, except I had already been full of doubts deep inside. You had been cold for the past few weeks, and I was getting tired of having to initiate most of our conversations and plan our dates. It was as if you were no longer interested in me and whatever we had. I don’t know if it was because I had chosen to move out of your place, or if you simply were no longer excited to spend time with me. In fact, earlier that day, I had to force you to meet up with me for us to do something together on your special day. You said you didn’t have work that day, it was your birthday, yet you’d rather stay at home and prepare for your company dinner.
Your coldness and lack of interest persisted even during the holidays. And then, one day, I just woke up and realized that I no longer cared much about you. Maybe I just got used to not having you around. Or, maybe, I just got tired. Maybe I just realized that enough was enough.
I will remember our love in the same way that I will remember Bourdain’s life, or what I know of it: It was good while it lasted.
I know that to this day, many people still believe that what we had was too great to be thrown away just like that. I am sure they remain convinced that it could have not ended, if only we had enough courage and drive to fight a little bit harder. But what do they know? Our relationship might have seemed ideal from a distance, but they aren’t aware of what we had to go through and how difficult things were for us, especially in the last months we spent together.
In the same way, people have no idea what Bourdain had to go through while trying to live his life and what really pushed him to the edge, until he could no longer take it. While we can all live our lives wondering about the things we could have done while things were not yet too late, we can no longer change the fact that it’s over now. He’s dead. And like him, our love is, too.
I wrote this essay in June 2018, a few days after Anthony Bourdain’s death and five months after a four-year relationship of mine had ended.