“Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted to see the Congo, and for my sins, they let me”. With these words, Anthony Bourdain experiences his own Heart of Darkness, as he ventures into the vast expanse of the Congo for one of his most defining adventures.
Anthony Bourdain visited the Congo to film season 1 (episode 8) of Parts Unknown; it was his only trip to the country, and if long-time collaborator Tom Vitale is to be believed, it was one of the few trips Bourdain took which could be truly categorized as a “bucket list” experience for him.
While the Congo isn’t a traditional tourist destination by any stretch of the definition, you too might feel yourself drawn to this unique African country. If so, you might be curious about the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in the Congo – and this post will help. Unlike other guides which have a list of restaurants and foods, this guide is less conventional: where possible, I’ve added places Tony and his crew ate, but for the most part, it’s more helpful to focus on the foods and experiences he had as a guide for your own trip.
Ready to explore Tony’s “Heart of Darkness” and consider how your own trip might look?
Truck Stop (Nyirangarama, Rwanda)
Beginning his journey close to the border in neighboring Rwanda, Bourdain’s first food-related experience is a basic one. Looking to load up on calories, he tries some simple roadside offerings. Grilled corn, served everywhere alongside roads in Africa, together with a few samosas, folded pastry triangles of spiced meat and vegetables.
Restaurante Fatimata (Goma)
Over the border and into the Congo, Anthony meets with his companion for this trip, documentary filmmaker Daniel McCabe, in the city of Goma under the shadow of the Nyiragongo volcano.
Eating at a simple local establishment in a city, the two discuss the trip ahead and the surrounding situation in the Congo with a simple meal of grilled chicken with spicy piri piri sauce, and ugali, a local starch dish made from ground corn meal. Boiled in water or milk until it reaches a stiff or firm dough-like consistency, ugali is the staple bulking element of many meals in this part of the world.
Wagenya Village (Boyoma Falls)
Following a harrowing flight on a Shorts SC-7 Skyvan (“I’m not familiar with this type of aircraft”, Bourdain quips), the team land in Kisangani, formerly Stanleyville, the inner station in Heart of Darkness.
After a short trip to a local Wagenya village, Tony meets with fisherman Ogi. With the Congo River at this point featuring low rock banks, traditional boat, and riverside fishing options are not possible. The fishermen instead employ a technique involving a system of large wooden tripods to drive fish into large trap baskets.
After viewing this unique fishing method, Bourdain is treated to a freshly caught meal of liboke ya mbisi, tiger fish steamed in banana leaves.
Unknown Street Vendor (Kisangani)
With no dependable electricity in the city, most lights at night in Kisangani come from food stands. At one such stand, Anthony meets with local fixer Christian Kilundu to sample the Congolese take on street BBQ.
There is grilled goat, together with cabri, a type of traditional goat stew, served with cold beer.
River Boat on the Congo River
Deep in the jungle 120km downriver, Tony experiences firsthand the challenges of cooking in an environment that is bereft of both ingredients and functional tools.
With the sun dipping below the horizon and the diesel generator on the boat cutting out intermittently, Bourdain attempts to cook the old and stringy chickens the crew has onboard into something palatable.
He decides on coq au vin, a traditional French peasant dish of meat and vegetables slowly stewed in red wine. Without the more extravagant trappings of bacon and shallots, this is a more stripped-down version that includes the challenges of cooking with a dull knife and in near-total darkness, and swarms of bugs that surround the flicking lights.
Onions are added to a pot of red wine, together with potatoes and the aforementioned stringy chicken, and the pot is brought to a boil. After a couple of hours, the jungle-style stew is ready, and the coq au vin is served to the waiting crew.
As the sun rises the next day, a more straightforward dish is prepared for breakfast, fried spam, and egg sandwiches.
A destination that has fascinated him for many years, Anthony Bourdain reflects on his journey as “the most chaotic, difficult, yet amazing trip of my life, [where] things change at a moment’s notice. Welcome to the jungle.”
Have any questions about the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in the Congo, or what he ate during this unusual adventure? Let me know in the comments below.