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Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown


Aired May 27, 2015 - 21:00   ET


ANTHONY BOURDAIN, CNN HOST: I am so confused. It wasn't supposed to be like this. Of all of the places, of all the countries, all the years of traveling, it's here in Iran that I am greeted most warmly by total strangers.


BOURDAIN: The other stuff is there, the Iran we've read about, heard about, seen in the news. But this -- this I wasn't prepared for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): I took a walk through this beautiful world felt the cool rain on my shoulder, found something good in this beautiful world. I felt the rain getting colder.


BOURDAIN: Thank you. Merci. Good to be here finally. It's taken some time. Like a lot of time. Like four years I've been trying. Finally.

Tehran. City of nearly 8 million people. Capital of Iran. (INAUDIBLE) unlike, there are neighborhoods of Rome this feels a lot like.

After all of this time I finally have my chance to see a country I'd heard so much about.

(on camera): The weather is nice, too. I don't know what I was expecting. But it is nice.

(voice over): A big blank spot on nearly every traveler's resume.

(on camera): Merci. Delicious. Thank you.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Once upon a time there was an ancient kingdom where they found a lot of magical black stuff under the ground.

But two other kingdoms had the key to the magical black stuff. And when they wouldn't share. The people of the ancient kingdom got mad. They voted and their leader said the magical black stuff is ours to keep. But the other kingdoms wear afraid of losing all of the magical black stuff so they gave money to some bad men to get rid of the leader. They put back in power another leader. And they gave him money too. To some he was a good king. But to others he could be very cruel. After many years the people of the kingdom got mad. This time even madder. So they scared the king away forever. And then things started to get really messed up.

BOURDAIN: OK. That's a simplistic, and incomplete way to sum up the last 100-odd years of Iranian history. But the point is there were a lot of issues and differing agendas leading up to the explosion of rage known as the Iranian hostage crisis. Look, we know what Iran the government does. George W. Bush famously called them part of the axis of evil. Their proxies in Iraq have done American soldiers real harm. There was no doubt of this. But I hope I can be forgiven for finding these undeniable truths hard to reconcile with how we are treated on the streets everywhere we go. So forget about the politics if you can for a moment. How about the food? The food here is amazing.

Chelo-kabob, as close as you get to a national dish and the king of kabobs. Ground lamb with spices, a good place to start.

(on camera): So what do you guys do for a living?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am a curator of contemporary art.

BOURDAIN: Which is an exploding scene here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Iranian culture has three different culture. Western culture, Iranian and Islamic culture. It's really (INAUDIBLE). It has changed a lot during the last decade.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So this is the actual (INAUDIBLE)


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would recommend you to try this one. And this one. And this one.




BOURDAIN (voice over): Chelo-kabob wouldn't be complete without Persian rice. Fluffy, long grained, and perfectly seasoned with saffron, the rice in this country us like anything you have ever had.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, Tony, first you should take the butter and put it on your rice. Bon appetite.

BOURDAIN (on camera): Bon appetite.

It's good.



(voice over): It was a hopeful time when I arrived in Iran. A window had opened. There had been a slight loosening of restrictions since the election of President Hassan Rouhani. And there was optimism for a deal that could lead to an easing of crippling economic sanctions imposed because of Iran's continued nuclear program. Trade restrictions that have been very, very difficult for everyone. But there is a push happening between opposing factions in the government. On one hand, Iranians are the descendants of ancient Persia. And empire of poetry. Flowers, the highly influential culture that goes back thousands of years. But the ruling clerical and military class are at best ambivalent and at worst actively hostile to much of that tradition. Severe religious based restrictions of speech, dress, behavior were ushered in by the rise of the ayatollah during the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

So how does one have fun in Iran these days? This is the line that is constantly being tested. Alcohol is, of course, forbidden. You can get away with listening to rock or rap. Sort of. Sometimes. But you cannot yourself rock or be seen to visibly rock. Not everyone in Iran is delighted with what their country has become since the revolution. But even insinuating discontent can have consequences. Protesters, dissidents, journalists have been simply disappeared into the moor (ph) of the national security system.

LOCAL CREW: Military.

BOURDAIN (on camera): What?

LOCAL CREW: Some military place. Don't shoot, please.


JASON REZAIAN, WASHINGTON POST CORRESPONDENT: We are in this northern most land of Tehran, up here in Derbend (ph), the road stops and it gets really steep. The place for Iranians to escape the heat, escape the pollution. And have a kabob. And a shisha, and just kind of unwind.

As print journalists our job is difficult, but it's also kind of easy. Because there is so much to write about. You know it, the difficult part is convincing people on the other side of the world that what we are telling you, we are seeing in front of our eyes is actually there. When you walk down the street you see a different side of things. People are proud. The culture is vibrant. People have a lot to say.

BOURDAIN (voice over): Jason Rezaian is "the Washington Post" correspondent for Iran, Yeganeh, his wife and a fellow journalist works for the UAE based newspaper "The National." Jason is Iranian- American. Yeganeh is a full Iranian citizen. This is their city, Tehran.

(on camera): The official attitude towards fun in general seems to be an ever-shifting -- is fun even a good idea? REZAIAN: A lot of push and pull. A lot of give and take. When I

first started coming here you wouldn't hear pop music in a restaurant or ...


YEGANEH SALEHI: It's everywhere now.

BOURDAIN: Now it is everywhere.

YEGANEH SALEHI: We have police. They arrest girls or women for having bad hijab, or not being covered enough. But it's not that we live with the police in our head, you know.

BOURDAIN: You know, one of the first things that people will say when you say, I'm going to Iran. Yeah, but don't they make women dupe this, this, this, this.

REZAIAN: Actually -- not so much, not as much as our friends.

BOURDAIN: Compare and contrast, women aren't allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.

YEGANEH SALEHI: That's right. Or vote.

BOURDAIN: Or vote. You can drive. You can vote?

YEGANEH SALEHI: Yeah, of course.

BOURDAIN: Can you open business?


My sister is an accountant. She has her own company. Girls are allowed to do almost everything, except if you want to go and watch football, which is ...

BOURDAIN: Can't they watch football?


BOURDAIN (voice over): Women's issues are often at the spear point of change or possible change here. On one hand, prevailing conservative attitudes demand certain things. On the other hand, Iranian women are famously assertive, opinionated. It's a striking difference from almost everywhere else in the region.

(on camera): So, why are we so friendly with the Saudis again?

: It's a great question. It's a really good question.

YEGANEH SALEHI: And I'm happy that you asked that question.


BOURDAIN: Do you like it? Are you happy here? REZAIAN: Look, I am at a point now after five years where -- I miss

certain things about home. I miss my buddies. I miss burritos. I miss having certain beverages with my buddies and burritos.


REZAIAN: Certain types of establishments. But I love it. I love it -- and I hate it. You know. But it's home. It's become home.

BOURDAIN: Are you optimistic about the future?

YEGANEH SALEHI: Yeah. Especially, if there is no (INAUDIBLR) finally happens. Yeah. Very much, actually.

BOURDAIN (voice over): Despite the hopeful nature of our conversation, six weeks after the filming of this episode, Jason and Yeganeh were mysteriously arrested and detained by the police. Sadly in Iran, this sort of thing is not an isolated incident.


BOURDAIN: What is OK to film in Iran and what is not? What is OK to the friendly, to us, at least, Ministry of Guidance, might not be OK at all for the Basij, essentially, roving young religious militias. Despite all permits and paperwork being in order we are detained for several hours. This sort of harassment is a daily part of life for Iranians.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just turn it off right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bye-bye. Bye-bye. Bye-bye.

BOURDAIN (on camera): I'm so glad to be here. I like your fellow ...



People have been ridiculously nice to us. Aren't you guys supposed to be the axis of evil?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are absolutely right. We are demonized by the media outside. You show black and white. People are demonstrating, and killing, and bombing. And this and that. And you never see - this and that. But you never talk about the real people. Who are actually living peacefully inside the country? You know? And eventually in the future of the world. We and Americans have a very special place in this, you cannot play a game without considering Iran as a friend.

BOURDAIN (voice over): One of Ferog's (ph) many passions is ancient Persia, culinary history in particular, and he is writing a book on the subject.

(on camera): How do you pronounce the specialty here? Vizi (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Service called Dizi (ph), which actually is the name of the pot.

BOURDAIN: That's right. It's like an Earthenware.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one of the ending dishes of humankind. It goes back to Mesopotamia 6,000 years ago.

BOURDAIN: Potato, chick peas, water. Lamb. Cooked together.

(voice over): Add a little fat. Mash it up with potatoes and chick peas.

(on camera): That's good. What do Iranians want to eat today? It is a home cooking culture. I mean ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. We didn't have the culture of eating out. This is a culture of secret foods in the House. Things, which are unheard of. It's not in the book. Secret.

BOURDAIN: That is really, really interesting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of secrets.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you ever tried traditional Iranian food?

BOURDAIN: It is difficult. Because everybody says the great food of Iran is cooked in people's homes.


BOURDAIN (voice over): This is a land of secret recipes. Passed down within families like treasured possessions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Tony, please.

BOURDAIN (on camera): Beautiful spread of food.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She is my wife. And I am a really lucky man. She is very good to cook.

BOURDAIN (voice over): Prijan (ph) like so many other Iranians I've met has been kind enough to invite me to his home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is milk soup. Milk and chicken soup.

BOURDAIN (on camera): It is really good.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): My mom said that Iranian people loves guests. And they will never get tired if the guest likes their food.

He's called it fesanjan (ph).

BOURDAIN (voice over): A stew of fried chicken, onion, ground walnuts, pomegranate, and tomato paste.

(on camera): And this fruit. There's some kind of fruit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, there's the dried apricot inside (INAUDIBLE).

BOURDAIN: Delicious. So good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Needed around 24 hours' time.

BOURDAIN (voice over): These are very sophisticated, very time consuming dishes to prepare. Always from scratch and always in excess of what you could possibly need. You tend to kill your guests with kindness around here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pinopina (ph). That dish is from the south of Iran.

BOURDAIN (on camera): From the Persian Gulf?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This one is from the north.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mahia halva (ph).

BOURDAIN: Maybe if I could try some?


BOURDAIN: Yes. Thank you.


And that one is peyme (ph). We made it with beans, meat.

BOURDAIN: It's so good.

Mm, fantastic food.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Men and wife, both of them working.

BOURDAIN: It's hard to do something like this.

That's what I've been waiting. That's the crispy rice at the bottom right there. What is it called? Tareq? Is that?





UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My mom and my mother-in-law, they think if they have a guest they have to at least two or three kind of foods. And if they make just one they think that it is not very polite for a guest. But now they set the example for my generation. That I have a guest I will just make one food. One appetizer. And one dessert.

BOURDAIN: You know why? You know why?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because it is much easier.



BOURDAIN: Times have changed. Pre-1979 Tehran was party central. But with Iran's 1979 revolution, 2500 years of monarchy was over. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini's word became more or less -- law. Today hundreds of thousands of Iranians are bussed to his enormous shrine from all over the country. The national holiday, Khomeini died on this day in 1989. His funeral attended by over 10 million Iranians.

CROWD (chanting)


CROWD (chanting)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Down with ignorance. Viva wisdom!

CROWD (chanting)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of Iranian (INAUDIBLE) we need (INAUDIBLE), and maybe - in all of the world for friendship.

CROWD (chanting)

BOURDAIN: Don't want to miss the bus.

(voice over): South of Tehran, the landscape opens up. Only 300 miles of Iranian highway stretching to the city of Isfahan. Isfahan is Iran's third largest city. Half the world, is the saying, went back when this was the capital of Persia and beyond.

The city is renowned for its architecture, the grandest bridges and mosques dating back to the Middle Ages. The USA? From America. Where are you from? From Isfahan? Or from Tehran?


BOURDAIN: Well, nice to meet you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nice to meet you too.

BOURDAIN: Yes. Hello.


BOURDAIN: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to Isfahan.

BOURDAIN: Thank you so much.

It's very beautiful.

I guess into the decor, this is a former wrestlers' hangout?

(voice over): Tucked deep in the labyrinth of Isfahan's bazaar, the smell of something, very, very good. This shop has been here doing the same thing for 100 years. And based on the line it must be doing it right.

(on camera): I have had biryani in India. I've had it in Uzbekistan. But there is no question who invented biryani. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. No way.

BOURDAIN (voice over): Biryani. Maybe you know the word, though this doesn't look like any biryani I have ever had. Minced lamb shoulder, onion, turmeric, cinnamon, mint, and of course, saffron. More valuable than gold by weight.

(on camera): This is delicious.


BOURDAIN: Isfahan today one of the most visited areas by tourists?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, everybody knows, if you come to Iran and you don't visit Isfahan, you are wasting your time.

BOURDAIN (voice over): The royal mosques, it's Imam Square, the second largest square in the world behind Tiananmen in China. At dusk families come to the square to cool off, picnic, and have, yes, it looks like even a little bit of fun.


BOURDAIN: Morning prayer in Isfahan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (chanting in foreign language)

BOURDAIN: Across town the Khaju Bridge where men gather spontaneously to sing.


BOURDAIN: Is this OK? This impromptu giving oneself over to the creative urge to stand and sing out to no one in particular? Maybe, but not OK apparently to film.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got to go. BOURDAIN: The road back to Tehran. Along the way, reminders of just how far back this culture goes. The ruins of ancient caravanserais, highway rest stops from when armies, merchants, traders traveling by camel by foot all passed along these same routes. This right here a stop on what was once the Silk Road extending all the way to China.

In this part of the world, whatever your background, bread is a vital, essential, fundamental and deeply respected staple. In mornings in Tehran countless bakeries like this one turn out as much as they can.

(on camera): It smells good in here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to stay in line.

BOURDAIN: No problem.

(voice over): Standing in line is a daily part of life for many Iranians.

(on camera): They bake these things on small stones. Gives it that texture.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is why it is called sangak - Sang is stone, pebble.

BOURDAIN (voice over): In the years since the 1979 revolution, Iranians have weathered wars, food shortages, and crippling trade sanctions, that have caused the economy to sputter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So I am going to make you a small table, all right?

BOURDAIN: Movak (ph) is kind enough to take me for breakfast.


BOURDAIN (voice over): Awesome. And it is made from bulgur wheat?


And you know what is inside except wheat? It is meat. It is turkey. This is a mixture of sugar and cinnamon.

BOURDAIN (on camera): That's good.


BOURDAIN: Yeah, and the spread is amazing.

So, you were how old when the war with Iraq started?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was exactly seven.

BOURDAIN: Iraq attacked ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. BOURDAIN: And it was a surprise attack.

(voice over): Iran's eight year long war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq is deeply, deeply felt. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians, many of them children died fighting in that conflict.

(on camera): Were you afraid?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were afraid. My brother was -- in the front. For three years out of eight. And it was not only my brother, many young people like him. Eight years of war, you know. With a country that is supported by many big powers.

BOURDAIN (voice over): And it is worth mentioning whatever you think, wherever we are now, that Saddam supported by the U.S. government and with our full knowledge used Sarin and mustard gas on hundreds of thousands of Iranians. Less known in America, known and felt by everyone in Iran.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it was a mistake of the United States at the time. They made a bad memory for Iranians.

BOURDAIN (on camera): But still people are indeed really, really nice here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because people here don't hate Americans. You had a coup. And then a revolution everything. And then you captured the embassy. And he is finished. And then - killed each other. We didn't have a real fight. So it can be some political misunderstanding which is resolved, which will be resolved, maybe, I hope.

BOURDAIN: Inshallah (ph).



BOURDAIN (voice over): So far, Iran does not look and does not feel the way I had expected. Neither East nor West, but always somewhere in the middle.

(on camera): Well it looks spectacular.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't have this in the restaurant. It is time consuming. It is very expensive. So you have to - Persian cuisine has to be experienced in somebody's home.

BOURDAIN: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So this one here is called basvurmah (ph).

BOURDAIN: It's slow cooked lamb in yogurt.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In yogurt, and saffron and egg yolks.

BOURDAIN (voice over): Nazilla (ph), a prominent art gallery owner insisted I come over for lunch with her friends and family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And here we have the sour cherry rice. The maples and chicken.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sour cherries. More than any other nation, I think we love sour.


BOURDAIN: Rahim (ph), the cook, has been with the family for generations. Rice mixed with yogurt and saffron baked into a crispy dough. Don't think of rice as a side dish around here. It can be the main event.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Very, very good.

BOURDAIN (on camera): You put far more on the -- table than anyone can conceivably eat. Is that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you don't like your guest you don't put anything.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And here we have kuftah (ph), which is a large meatball.

BOURDAIN (voice over): Kuftah tamrisi (ph): Ground beef, onion, and cooked rice. Walnuts, dried apricots, boiled egg and barberries.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anyway, we are a very interesting nation.

BOURDAIN (voice over): And very confusing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Extremely confusing.

BOURDAIN: The contradictions are just.


BOURDAIN: Enormous.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Iranians we take you to our house, and we take you to our hearts. And now - and in that way we are extreme. You know, we are extremists in so many ways.

BOURDAIN: You see this tortured relationship between America and Iran for many years. How do you think most Americans will react when they see this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They will start coming.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is very important for as Iranians to get sure - to make sure that we are seen as humans here, not the so-called enemy or the darkness of Iran. You know, like you go to anybody's house in Iran, and I am sure they will welcome you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The axis of evil. We are not the axis of evil. Just normal evil like everybody else.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ten years ago Iran was, people they had hope for future, young people. They wanted to travel. They had a little bit of money. But because of sanctions. This sanction really squeeze everybody. Eight years, no foreign investment here. And so it was very difficult time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Terrible. Terrible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And, in the population is really young. 70 percent are under 35. And the thing is, they do - much more than what they have now. They want to have good job, they want to - you know, have families, but is not possible now for them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hope we can have more faith in the ordinary Americans, because every little change in the policy of the Western country, it really, really affects our lives here.

BOURDAIN: The Milad Tower. Iran's tallest building and the symbol of national pride. It rises 1,000 feet in the air and looks out at all Tehran and beyond.

We were out on the observation deck taking it all in, trying to make some sense of it all. Our time in Iran was coming to an end and it was impossible to say, was a window opening? Or was it only a moment in time before it shut again?

You learn pretty quickly that in Iran, there is plenty of gray area. An undefined territory. Where is the line? It seems to change with barely a moment's notice.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This isn't the first time that we have experienced such thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay away from the glass.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please follow me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please stop filming.


BOURDAIN: Last day in Iraq. Night falls, and the kids, like kids anywhere, get in their rides and head for somewhere they can hang out.

(on camera): Amazing ...


BOURDAIN: American classics here. Where do you get them?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Old men. Old people, yeah.

BOURDAIN: Right. And then fix them up?


BOURDAIN: Mustang? Camaro.


BOURDAIN: Firebird?


BOURDAIN: That's a perfect L.A. car right there.


BOURDAIN: Is this a car club or is this people just come?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We hang out this way. These are our friends.

BOURDAIN: Well, I call back for little delivery.

(voice over): One last thing everyone has been telling me I have to try. Iranian take-out pizza.

(on camera): It comes with ketchup.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think about Iranian pizza?

BOURDAIN: Not bad.


BOURDAIN: We don't put ketchup on pizza, though.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love ketchup.

BOURDAIN (voice over): I could spend my youth, pretty much, doing this. Hanging out in a parking lot?

(on camera): Let's assume the worst. Let's assume that you cannot see any way to reconcile what you think of Iran with your own personal beliefs. You just generally don't approve.


BOURDAIN: I think those are exactly the sort of places you should go.


BOURDAIN: See who we're talking about and where we're talking about here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's almost un-American not to go to those places. You know?

BOURDAIN: I don't know that I can put it in any kind of perspective. I feel deeply conflicted. Deeply confusing, exhilarating, heartbreaking, beautiful place.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: American cars are crazy.

BOURDAIN: American cars are crazy and they're fun.


BOURDAIN: All I can tell you is, Iran I've seen on TV and read about in the papers, it's a much bigger picture. Let's put it this way. It's complicated.


BOURDAIN: After ten weeks, Yeganeh was finally released. But as I read these lines, Jason remains a prisoner. His future, the reasons for their arrest, are still unknown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, two, three!

BOURDAIN: Thank you, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALES: Thank you. Thank you, sir.

BOURDAIN: We'll see you.