Returning after nine years and the end of a brutal civil war, Bourdain finds cautious hope for the country's future.
Anthony Bourdain in Sri Lanka
Credit: Courtesy of CNN

Anthony Bourdain returns to Sri Lanka for this week's Parts Unknown for the first time since 2008, and there's been at least one major change since: the end of the country's civil war. Sri Lanka Press Institute member Kumar Lopez sums it up at a local curry joint. When Bourdain asks how life is different now, he answers, "the fact that you are able to eat without even thinking that there could be a bomb that could go off at any moment." Nine years ago, Bourdain remembers, Sri Lanka's capital of Colombo was filled with soldiers, military, sandbags, and barbed wire—now, the huge machine gun atop a tower by an old beachside hotel stands unused, looming above a man trying to scare off crows with a slingshot.

Sri Lanka, says Bourdain, was known for its spices and a tour of Colombo's street food shows just how flavorful the food is. As told by Sri Lankan chef Dharshan Munidasa, the nation's cuisine differs from nearby Indian food in that its curries are lighter, and that thanks to ocean access, fresh seafood is widely available. For Bourdain, "the holy grail of Sri Lankan cuisine" is crab curry, which he savors later with a family who somehow managed to get their 1930's-built home back after the war.

Lasting from 1983 through 2009, the conflict between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (known as the LTTE or Tamil Tigers) and the Sri Lankan government resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, and has left as many living in refugee camps even after the war has ended. Bourdain asks Tracy Hoslinger, founder of Mind Adventures theatre company, which puts on plays about the war that a few years ago would have been dangerous to perform, whether she has hope for Sri Lanka's future is left as a cliffhanger while Bourdain travels where he couldn't last time, the northern city of Jaffna.

After a ten-hour train ride across the reunified country, Bourdain arrives at a coastal city more visibly scarred by the war than Colombo. But the fish market is buzzing, and, residents say, if the country truly tries to rebuild by investing in the destroyed areas, and letting refugees return to their homes after, in some cases, multiple decades, progress is possible. Eventually, the show gives us Hoslinger's answer: "you have to be optimistic."

Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown: Sri Lanka premieres Sunday, October 29 at 9 p.m. on CNN.