I remember being overwhelmed by the sheer size of the meal that I was having at Line Clear, one of George Town, Penang’s best-kept secret.
I gulped down several cupfuls of water and more glasses of Pepsi as I tried to quell the spiciness of the curry, while droplets of sweat were flowing down my forehead and my cheeks as the temperatures approached the high 30s on that unusually hot day in Malaysia. Earlier, I was struggling to find parking for my rented scooter in the side streets and alleys since the area was chock full of lunchtime patrons. I was looking around for the place, with a faulty Tripadvisor map preloaded on my phone, and though it was very clear that I had arrived, I was taken aback by how simple the place was.
I wasn’t expecting plastic chairs and folding tables. Then again, I got the tip to find Line Clear and enjoy the famous nasi kandar from Mr. No Reservations himself. On the wall was a tarpaulin hanging, with Anthony Bourdain’s face beaming into the camera, obviously flushed from a meal of hot curry, rice and vegetables. I sat down, wiped my brow and proceeded to order. Later on, the attendant said I was seated on the very same table where Tony sat. It might have been a lie, for marketing’s sake. But I believed him nonetheless.
Today, the news broke that Anthony Bourdain killed himself in Paris. I am extremely saddened by the news. At a time when celebrity suicides are painfully far too common, this one truly resonates within me, like a hollow, guttural and primal scream of pain.
You see, Tony Bourdain was my hero. My food and travel writing, and even the way I plan my holidays abroad are all patterned after the nonchalant and haphazard way that Tony would stumble into hole in the wall restaurants that turn out to be phenomenal. He had quite the nose and palate for good finds, and I have always been inspired to go off the beaten track because of his shows.
I went to Penang with the sole mission of glutting on the best food that George Town can offer, and it was after Tony’s excursions that I designed my very own itinerary. The nasi kandar, a mixed platter of different meat curries, sauces and vegetables, the best of which is in Line Clear, was truly an unforgettable meal. I kept coming back to Line Clear during the entire week of my stay in the heritage town. The dude knew what he was talking about. When Tony speaks, the world listens.
The world lost a very inspiring and kind soul.
I love how honest and unpretentious his commentary was. He didn’t have much of an appetite for the fine things, but he craved adventure everywhere he went. He was unabashedly and unapologetically hedonistic, eating and drinking at every turn, drinking beers and cocktails in broad daylight while waiting for the next dish to be served at some dingy and grimy restaurant in the middle of nowhere.
Tony gave us a taste of how it is to travel without worries and without any undue reverence for travel guides and snooty listicles of must-sees. In turn, the nondescript places he would go to would become THE must-sees. His senses were his guide, and armed with a few recommendations from trusted locals, Tony’s brand of travel and culture-seeking was really immersive and experiential. He had faith in his own sense of smell and sight. He had the knack for judging what looked good and what smelled awesome. Certainly, if it tickled the senses, it was a great meal.
I even love Tony for his genuine love for miserable backwater countries like The Philippines when he could have the finest food in the culinary centres of the world. His discerning tastebuds craved the pyrotechnics of exotic and historical locales, and I could only aspire to be as adventurous and unbridled as he was. He brought Filipino food to the fore somehow, making household names out of our national brands such as Jollibee and Zubuchon.
Today, as the world mourns, I remember Tony for the inspiration that he has always given me. When I’m in a writers’ block, I watch reruns of Parts Unknown and No Reservations on YouTube. The way I write about exciting cities and places around the globe is educated a lot by how Tony saw the world from his own eyes: an enormous frontier of adventure and experiences waiting to be savoured.
Funny enough, I have come to bring him up a lot recently during my Colors of Manila tour, which I designed for Manila for a Day. The tour ends with a Chicken Spaghetti meal from a Jollibee branch in a section of Quiapo’s open air markets. It would have been Tony’s brand of a perfect city tour: fruit and vegetable markets, the cacophony of sights and sounds, and the massive, heaving crowd pushing at you from all directions as the every day folk scurried to wherever it was they needed to rush to. It was farfetched, but I was hoping Tony would come back some day and take it. And possibly like it. Because I thought about his way of exploring a lot as I was getting lost in Quiapo’s narrow lanes and markets. What Would Anthony Bourdain Do.
Biting in to Jollibee’s juicy fried chicken, I would recall to my guests how Tony gushed about Jollibee on his show, catapulting the brand into global acclaim. From now on, the requisite mention of his name on the tour will be followed by a moment of silence for today, I have lost one of my life’s true heroes.
So long, Tony. May you rest in peace.