The 'Grandma Rule' Anthony Bourdain Lived By When Eating Abroad

Anthony Bourdain was famous for many reasons, not the least of which his extensive culinary travels, which landed him in kitchens and restaurants around the world. He had the best advice for finding great restaurants in any city and many other food rules he swore by when traveling, including the so-called "Grandma Rule." This was Bourdain's catchy term for a respectful bit of food etiquette to use when dining as a guest. In the same way you'd do at your grandma's house, accept the food a host offers without complaint, and even if it's not to your liking, be gracious and grateful to them. 

As seen in an excerpt published in Forbes, Bourdain's memoir, "Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook," expounded on the idea. The famed chef wrote, "You may not like Grandma's Thanksgiving turkey. It may be overcooked and dry [...] But it is 'Grandma's Turkey.' And you are in Grandma's house. So shut the eff up and eat it. And afterwards say, 'Thank you Grandma, why yes, yes of course I'd love seconds.'" Bourdain was known for seeking out foods in the only countries where they can be found, and while it's impossible for absolutely every dish to be to his (or anyone else's) tastes, his respect for the cook — and therefore, the cuisine — was always paramount.

Does the 'grandma rule' work around the world?

Though there were some foods he hated with a passion, Anthony Bourdain lived by his own rule and courteously accepted whatever local delicacies were offered to him. In the Philippines, he tried a dish of stomach bile soup, though he'd tasted it previously and wasn't a fan. To his own surprise, he enjoyed the soup after giving it a chance. He was also hesitant about a soup made from pig's blood, which he was served in Thailand, but ended up referring to it as part of the best meal he had in the country. 

Knowing how to navigate these kinds of situations is important for anyone who wants to see and taste the world, according to Bourdain. He believed that shared food was a conversation between guest and host, and an expression of heritage and history. The act of sharing a meal provides insight into an individual's life and what brings them joy. 

The simplicity of the chef's "Grandma Rule" relates to this understanding, but it's not necessarily universal. In China, a clean plate and request for seconds may imply that the host's meal wasn't enough to satisfy. Exceptions like this are why it's important to educate yourself on the details of dining etiquette before visiting a new place. At least we know that while table manners vary depending on the place, gratitude and grace never go out of style.

Anthony Bourdain's other tips for dining abroad

Given Anthony Bourdain's "Grandma Rule," it's no surprise that the seasoned chef and restauranteur preached politeness to waitstaff, in addition to cooks. He emphasized that it can improve one's dining experience to get in the good graces of your server. He also believed that travelers should avoid tour groups, as organized programs like these are likely to skip out on some of the best spots in town, and instead lead you to tourist traps. 

Bourdain was also big on following the advice of locals and trying their favorite restaurants, adding that obsessing over cleanliness or safety can get in the way of having authentic experiences. He also advised travelers to avoid airplane food and arrive at their destination with an empty stomach, ready to enjoy new foods and flavors ASAP. Food can actually taste different while flying, so it's worth it to wait for a more satisfying meal.

Above all, Bourdain preached humility. He believed that being open to new experiences was the secret to living a rich and full life. According to an excerpt of his book "Medium Raw" as featured in Variety, he wrote: "Without experimentation, a willingness to ask questions and try new things, we shall surely become static, repetitive, moribund."