Synopsis: Bourdain roams Sichuan province, the “spicy, sensualist heartland” of China. He brings along his good friend Eric Ripert, head chef of Le Bernardin, and launches a campaign to make his friend feel as uncomfortable as possible. Refusing to go easy on him, Bourdain subjects Ripert to a never-ending onslaught of numbing Sichuan peppercorns, limit-testing baijiu, and a spontaneous ear cleaning.

“You don’t want the rest of the world thinking that Le Bernardin sends pussies out there to represent.”

Bourdain on his undying need to make Eric as uncomfortable as possible:

  • “You know what I like? Sichuan. You know what else I like? Torturing my friend, Eric Ripert. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because he’s so damn nice.”
  • “His discomfort can be exquisite.”
  • “It’s the spicy, sensualist heartland of all the things I love about China.”
  • “Drinking culture is very important here. And if we go to, like, a formal meal, your ability to drink leads to a number of assumptions about you, you know? Your general manliness, penis size. Your worth as a human being.”
  • “Any second now that perfect head is going to burst into flames.”
  • “But the baijiu comes out and everything is fine again. For me, anyway. I’m not so sure about Eric.”
  • “There will be food, I told him. A lot of foodand baijiu. And one must not, under any circumstances, bring shame on our house.”

On the food and fire of Sichuan:

[On the sneaky heat of hot pot]: “As it cooks down, it gets stronger and stronger and the heat more intense. A delicious yet unpredictable silt of spice gathering at the bottom of this river of hot lava.”

  • [On MSG]: “You know what causes Chinese-restaurant syndrome? Racism. ‘Ooh, I have a headache, must have been the Chinese guy.’”
  • [On mapo doufu]: “My absolute favorite, improbably enough, is a tofu dish.”
  • [A little more on mapo doufu]: “If you ever have a hangover—and trust me, you will—this will scare the evil right out.”
  • [Bourdain on gelatinous and cartilaginous textures]: “That resistance, that boing, that rubberiness, elasticity—it’s kind of the last frontier for Western palates.”
  • “I made a potentially lethal mistake this morning. I did something I never do. I ate a Western breakfast at the hotel. It’s bad—always bad news.”

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The very quotable sidekicks:

Eric Ripert: “Actually, the spiciness makes me already, like, uh, feeling that I’m drunk.”

  • Go Sa: “Most of the traditional, very famous dishes of Sichuan cuisine are not made by chefs. They all come from the family. So family dishes are the key to Sichuan cuisine.”
  • Eric Ripert: “You know, it changes you physically. It feels like my face is changing. You know, my eyes are in a different position.”
  • Eric Ripert: “They’re all looking at me in the kitchen like, ‘Is he going to survive or what?’”
  • Eric Ripert: “I cannot think anymore. So I am going to eat and drink.”

Gao Shin:  “The best part of hot pot is to share.”

  • Fuchsia Dunlop: “The Chinese invented being obsessed with food.”
  • Eric Ripert: “When you can achieve refinement and keep the soul of the food in the process, you don’t only have pretty food, you have amazing food.”
  • Fuchsia Dunlop: “In the West, there’s just no concept of eating something for the pleasure of its texture.”
  • Fuchsia Dunlop: “Chinese is the world’s underrated cuisine. Because everyone loves Chinese food, but until recently people, mainly in the West, thought of Chinese food as being something very familiar and good to eat but cheap and a little bit junky, honestly. I think that now people can see that it has so much more to offer. It’s got everything from the most elevated banquet food, imperial cooking, hearty peasant food, street food, Buddhist vegetarian cooking, Muslim cooking, ethnic minorities with their own styles. It’s really what you would call a gastronomic culture.”
  • Eric Ripert, on Bourdain’s attitude toward taking public trains: “You have luxury taste, I noticed. Kind of elitist taste.” Bourdain’s response: “I don’t like to roll around in my own shit in a moving bathroom. That’s elitist?”