The 4 Non-Food-Related Themes that Appear Over and Over on Anthony Bourdain's TV Shows

© Parts Unknown/CNN
A look at Bourdain's true obsessions.

If you're an aficionado of Anthony Bourdain's television shows, you've probably noticed certain topics having nothing to do with food reappearing over and over. Bourdain has his fixations, and frequently they make their way onto the screen. After combing exhaustively through the catalog of No Reservations and Parts Unknown episodes, we've determined that these obsessions fall into four major categories. Here they are:

Martial Arts

A few years ago, Bourdain started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which he now practices every day, regardless of where he is in the world. However, Bourdain’s love of martial arts and combat sports goes way back to the beginning of No Reservations, when he sparred with Puerto Rican boxing champion Miguel Cotto in Season One. Since then, he’s included countless fight scenes in his many series, ranging from working with Jackie Chan’s stunt team in Hong Kong to watching oil wrestling in Istanbul to learning Kendo in Japan.

Featured in “Puerto Rico” (No Reservations), “Korea” (No Reservations), “Hong Kong” (No Reservations), “Tokyo” (No Reservations), “Thailand” (No Reservations), “Dubai” (No Reservations), “Bahia, Brazil” (Parts Unknown), “Bay Area” (Parts Unknown) and “Istanbul” (Parts Unknown).

Music

From the very beginning, Bourdain’s obsession with music has been one of the major themes of his multiple series. His love of bands like The Velvet Underground, The Rolling Stones, Iggy Pop and the New York Dolls is apparent to anyone who has watched even just a handful of episodes. Even if Bourdain has thrown away his sleeveless band t-shirts from the A Cook’s Tour years, his inner punk still pops up from time to time. These days, his musical leanings have led to everyone from Kool Herc to Morcheeba to Queens of the Stone Age to Ted Nugent to Questlove making appearances on the show.

Featured in Ghana” (No Reservations), “Cleveland” (No Reservations), “Argentina” (No Reservations), “Holiday Special” (No Reservations), “U.S. Desert” (No Reservations), "London/Edinburgh" (No Reservations), “Jamaica” (No Reservations), “U.S. Southwest” (No Reservations), "New York Outer Boroughs" (No Reservations), “Holiday Special” (No Reservations), “Boston” (No Reservations), "Holiday Special 2011” (No Reservations), “Kansas City” (No Reservations), “Austin” (No Reservations), “South Africa” (Parts Unknown), “The Bronx” (Parts Unknown), “Miami” (Parts Unknown), “New Jersey” (Parts Unknown), “Nashville” (Parts Unknown) and “Houston” (Parts Unknown).

Film

Over the years, Bourdain’s multiple series have evolved from cheaply made travel documentaries to beautifully shot, nonfictional narrative films. As such, one of the major influences for Bourdain and his team is the world of film, to the point now where individual scenes or episodes are often shot to mimic the cinematography and direction of particular movies. While Bourdain cites Federico Fellini and Akira Kurosawa as two of his major influences, he’s also had a number of filmmakers and actors as guests on the show itself, including director Darren Aronofsky, cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond  and actors Michael K. Williams, Asia Argento and Bill Murray to name a few.

Featured in “Tuscany” (No Reservations), “Vancouver” (No Reservations), “Rust Belt” (No Reservations), “San Francisco” (No Reservations), "Hudson Valley, NY" (No Reservations),  “Kerala"(No Reservations), “Finland” (No Reservations), “Rome"(No Reservations), “Cajun Country" (No Reservations), “Brooklyn” (No Reservations), “Jamaica” (Parts Unknown), “Madagascar” (Parts Unknown), “Budapest” (Parts Unknown) and “Rome” (Parts Unknown).

Literature

It’s no surprise that the most common theme featured throughout Bourdain's TV career, though, is literature. While he is now famous for his TV shows, his post-chef career all started with his defining book, Kitchen Confidential. As such, Bourdain constantly references books and writers on his show and has hosted a number of them as guests as well, including Jim Harrison, Michael Ruhlman and A.A. Gill. The two books that Bourdain references most, though, are Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, which he reads whenever he travels to Vietnam, and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which inspired his 2013 Congo episode of Parts Unknown, an episode that Bourdain describes as the most difficult show he and his team have ever produced.

Featured in "From Shanghai to Shangri-la" (No Reservations), "France: Why the French Don't Suck" (No Reservations), “Los Angeles” (No Reservations), “New York City” (No Reservations), “Greek Islands” (No Reservations), “Disappearing Manhattan” (No Reservations), “Vietnam: There’s No Place Like Home” (No Reservations), “Montana” (No Reservations), “Ozarks” (No Reservations), “Lisbon” (No Reservations), “Washington D.C.” (No Reservations), “Pacific Northwest” (No Reservations), “Congo” (Parts Unknown), “Las Vegas” (Parts Unknown), “Scotland” (Parts Unknown)

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