What Anthony Bourdain Enjoyed Most About Lunch With President Obama

When Anthony Bourdain sat down with former President Barack Obama for dinner in Hanoi, the name of the game was "laid back." As Bourdain revealed after the "Parts Unknown" episode aired, "CNN didn't know. The producers, even the camera guys who were to shoot the scene, were not told until the day before. At no point did the White House, CNN, or anyone else, offer guidance, suggestions, or ground rules for what I might talk to the President about." Indeed, this dedication to keeping things at the personal level paid off — Bourdain's favorite aspects of lunch with the former President had nothing to do with glamor and everything to do with relatability. In a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) thread, Bourdain shared of the meal, "It was like really weirdly relaxed. He seemed very much at ease, like he was having fun ... Rarely have I seen someone enjoy drinking a beer from the bottle as much as the president."

For starters, their shared meal was super down-to-earth — literally. When Bourdain and Obama dined at Bun Cha Huong Lien in 2016, they sat hunched over on small plastic stools. As Bourdain later tweeted beneath a photo of himself and Obama, "Low plastic stool, cheap but delicious noodles, cold Hanoi beer." The meal was proportionately no-frills — traditional Vietnamese dish bun cha: grilled pork belly patties and sticky cold rice noodles in a broth of vinegar, sugar, and fermented fish sauce. The dinner reportedly cost just $6.

The power of a meal shared

In the Reddit thread, Bourdain also mentioned that he was impressed by the former President's chopsticks "chops," and that he was happy to talk to him as a fellow father of a daughter. As he later told CNN, "I wasn't going to 'interview' the president. And though I may admire him, I wasn't going to be a platform for discussion of a particular foreign policy agenda ... Barack Obama was apparently interested in sitting down for a meal with me — and I intended to speak to him only as a father of a 9-year-old girl, [and] as a fellow Southeast Asia enthusiast."

And the former president seemed to appreciate this brief respite from the office to live like a civilian again, given the way he relaxed into the laid-back scene. On the episode, "The Boss" by James Brown plays in the background as the former president raves to Bourdain, "There are certain spices that you can smell in certain countries — [ones] that you just don't smell back home." Obama's vibe set the tone for the "Parts Unknown" crew, too. As Bourdain told Reddit readers, "Really because of the way he is — how relaxed and comfortable — none of us on the crew were nervous while we were shooting. It was only afterward that we all kind of looked [at] each other and said, 'Did that just happen?' It was really fun!"