“Abandon all ideas of any kind of plan, just hang on for the ride.” Of all the one-liners said by Anthony Bourdain in Liberia, this one stuck out at me the most. Africa‘s oldest republic, Liberia was originally envisioned as a small America – a place for freed slaves to create a fair society back on their home continent. Unfortunately, since gaining independence in 1947, Liberia has faced civil unrest and war, and a long road to becoming a developed nation despite its rich resources.
Anthony Bourdain visited Liberia in season 6, episode 16 of No Reservations (2010). It is the only time he visited Liberia during any of his shows. While there, he had an incredible diversity of experiences in the small West African nation.
The Liberia episode of No Reservations actually starts in Staten Island, New York, where Bourdain meets with a Liberian man who fled the country during unrest in 2004. Through their conversation, he learns more about what life was like in the war-torn country at the time, and heads off to Monrovia, the capital city, to investigate what life is like today.
Over the course of his visit, Tony eats at a local market, shares tea over a game of Scrabble, meets with his Liberian friend’s son who was left behind, and enjoys street food with a Bishop in one of Liberia’s historically most dangerous areas.
He then heads out to a rural community to learn about Liberian tribal traditions and sample local food. Upon returning to Monrovia, Bourdain is waylaid by a terrible bout of food poisoning before attempting to learn surfing from Liberia’s first pro surfer and recovering his appetite in time for a final meal of fresh-caught fish and beer. He then returns back to the U.S. and Staten Island to carry a gift from son to father, connecting them across the ocean as many Liberian families are today.
What & Where Anthony Bourdain Ate in Liberia
In Staten Island, Bourdain enjoys a local meal with Joe, one of thousands of Liberian immigrants in the area, at his home. They enjoy pepper soup, fufu, palava sauce, and rice while discussing Liberian politics and history.
Next, Tony leaps across the pond to the capital city of Monrovia. His first stop is Duala Market, where he takes a tour to learn about some common Liberian ingredients including bitterball, palm oil, dried peppers, casasva root, palm nut, hot peppers, and the “kiss-meat” snail. While it’s not this type of snail that gives him later digestive woes, it does show the variety of foods enjoyed on a daily basis by Liberians in the city.
Next he heads to the Haitai Athletic Association. Instead of thinking of this as a physical sports club, you should instead plan to flex your mental muscles. Over Chinese gunpowder tea, Bourdain discusses society from another perspective, and how Liberians look to the future. Following that he meets with Rochford, Joe’s son, at his home for a local meal of okra sauce and fufu.
Tony’s final stop in Monrovia is Hassan Delicious Baking Meat, a street food stand in Gurley Ghetto. This formerly dangerous area of town is now in recovery, aided by a number of Christian churches where Bourdain is able to experience the enthusiasm of parishioners before sitting down to enjoy grilled meats and conversation with their Bishop, Francis Thomas.
Leaving the capital city, Bourdain and team head out to a rural village of the Dei tribe (one of 16 tribes recognized in Liberia today). Here he enjoys fresh palm wine with the men, plus a stew of casava leaves, dried fish, and antbear (anteater) served with a fufu-like starch that you don’t chew. (Actually, my research suggests you should actually never chew fufu!)
Upon returning to Monrovia, Tony is waylaid but what he notes as being among the worst food poisoning he’s had in about a decade. He blames a giant snail for the 48-hour disruption in his filming schedule; the crew drags him out on the second day to Robertsport, a coastal town where Tony is expected to learn surfing while unfed for two days and severely dehydrated. (As someone who had severe food poisoning in Central Asia, I literally can’t imagine being dragged to the beach while recovering…)
In the end, Bourdain gives surfing a try with the guidance of young Alfred Lomax, Liberia’s first surfer. They catch a few waves before heading back to help pull in freshly-netted fish and enjoy a beach barbeque of pepper fish and blood fish (Tony identifies them as grouper and tuna), along with fufu, rice, collard greens, and sweet potato greens stew. Over a beer, his appetite returns, and he muses on the long road to prosperity ahead.
Like many episodes set in developing areas, this episode following Anthony Bourdain in Liberia isn’t easy to map with set restaurants and dishes. Instead, it should inspire you to consider learning more about this West African nation with so much potential and delicious-looking food.
Have any questions about the food tried by Anthony Bourdain in Liberia? Let me know in the comments!