Food, family, and OFWs: Anthony Bourdain's 'Parts Unknown' Manila experience

WATCH: What Anthony Bourdain thinks of sisig, kare-kare, Chickenjoy

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Manila, Philippines was the destination of choice for the pilot episode of CNN's award-winning food and travel show Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown Season 7.

Host Anthony Bourdain veered away from the usual outrageous Filipino street food; he instead discovered other glorious food, such as halo-halo, kare-kare, and sisig. The episode, which aired last April 24, focused on a varied mix of food: the uncelebrated street food, hole-in-the-wall restaurant finds, and home-cooked meals.

But beyond the food, this episode was personal for Bourdain as he tried to understand one of the country's biggest exports: overseas Filipino workers and why they do what they do.

'The jolliest place on Earth'

Bourdain's first order of business in the Philippines: Jollibee.

Years ago, for a different episode of Parts Unknown, he went to Jollibee and tried the Aloha Burger and a halo-halo. Bourdain mentioned that he normally sneers at fast food, but cannot pass the opportunity to dine at Jollibee.

"I sneer at fast food, revile it at every opportunity. But I am also a hypocrite because to me Filipino chain Jollibee is the wackiest, jolliest place on Earth."

He ordered a Jolly Spaghetti — making sure with the cashier that it came with hotdogs — and an order of Chickenjoy.

"Oh yeah, chicken and spaghetti. And not just any spaghetti, I think it's like sweet banana ketchup-y stuff with hotdogs." After a forkful of spaghetti, "that spaghetti's deranged yet strangely alluring," he said.

The chef and multi-awarded TV personality was slightly disappointed upon opening his "Yum Burger." It turned out to be a cup of rice, which came with his Chickenjoy meal. But he quickly turned the situation around when he poured the "sinister brown sauce" (relax, it was just gravy) in his rice.

"Ugh, I hate myself," he said as he reached for another chicken drumstick.

The feature on the Filipino fast food chain was nostalgic: a truly Pinoy meal and a dance number by its mascots (who Bourdain said farts inside the suits) and servers while the chain's jingle played in the background — reminiscent of Filipino kids' birthday parties.

Bourdain meets 'best pig' again

Bourdain crashed a company-hosted Christmas party, where there was copious amount of beer, drunken party games, and traditional slow-cooked lechon.

He recalled the moment he first tried Cebu lechon, "I have very fond memories the last time I had lechon in the Philippines. In fact, not to kiss your ass, it is the finest pig I've ever had. It's amazing."

"Man, that is good pig," he said as he took another bite.

A different street food

Bourdain skipped the street food the Philippines is known for, such as the grilled pig intestines and blood, and balut. Instead, he tried halo-halo — and not just any kind of mixture of shaved ice, evaporated milk, and various boiled sweet beans, jello, and fruits, but the ones sold on the streets or makeshift stalls outside the house.

 

He seemed baffled by all the colorful ingredients in the tall cup of halo-halo, "It's wonderful. I don't even know half of these ingredients are. I mean it's delicious, but how is it made? What's in it?"

His description of how it tasted is perfect for any foreigner who hasn't tried the unique dessert yet, "This is a wonderful creation. It's kind of like when the Froot Loops marinate in milk for a while — the milk kind of tastes like this. It's very satisfying; I'd recommend it. "

Bourdain also shared glasses of the dessert with the kids who were watching him enjoy his glass of halo-halo.

His 'single, favorite Filipino street food'

 

 

At the Super Six Grille in Remedios St. in Malate, Manila, he was served his "single, favorite Filipino street food," sizzling sisig with egg, partnered with buckets of cold San Miguel beer.

"Hot sizzling pig face with a runny egg on it... Nothing is getting in between me and this spicy, chewy, fatty goodness."

He ate it in gusto, exclaiming how good it looked and tasted.

Meals cooked at home and with love

 

 

In an effort to go beyond the Philippines' food, he met with musicians and families who cooked for him some of Filipinos' favorite viands: the classic chicken pork adobo and the overlooked specialty nutty kare-kare.

Beyond the food

Aside from the country's culinary highlights, Parts Unknown also put the spotlight on Filipino families, specifically families of overseas Filipino workers.

Aurora, who was clearly a character, sung spoken words as she prepared kare-kare, a mix of tripe, oxtail, vegetables, and banana blossom stewed in peanut butter.

Aurora is back in Manila after spending 30 years in the U.S. and five years in Hong Kong working as a nanny and househelp. She was reunited with her middle-aged children and grandchildren.

Tears in our eyes

Bourdain revealed why this episode was very personal to him.

"I'm at this Christmas gathering today because of one of our directors, Erik Osterholm. It was Aurora who raised him. For over 20 years, she cared for and loved Erik and his sister, looked after his whole family," he said while photos of Aurora, together with Erik (from a toddler to a grown man) and his family, was shown on screen.

Osterholm handed a letter to Bourdain describing Aurora's personality and how she made an impact in their lives.

"Aurora is such an incredible woman. She has an infectious and loving energy that is so powerful. I am 100 percent the man I am today because this woman literally raised me from when I was six months old, singing to me, dancing with me, wiping away my tears, cooking for me and making me laugh at every turn," to which Aurora responded with a shocked smile, seemingly trying to hold back her tears, and held a thumbs up.

Bourdain continued reading the letter, "Unfortunately, like so many Filipinos, her story is not all smiles and love. She had to choose a life away her daughter, thousands of miles away from her family. There are literally thousands of people around the world, me included, who have been influenced by her kindness and love."

Aurora was in awe and speechless, while her children continued wiping away their tears, astonished at the words and their mother's love and selfless sacrifices.

"I imagine this time around there will be tears. At least I hope so," Bourdain wrote prior to the airing.

There were tears, believe us, there were.

"Filipinos give, of themselves, of their time, of their money, their love, to others. They do and continue to do what needs to be done to survive," Bourdain said.