“If that sign does not sing to you, then we cannot be friends.”

Several years ago, I went to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic for a conference. A few weeks before I left, Travel Channel aired an episode of No Reservations about the Dominican Republic, which is where I learned that the national dish was sancocho.

I asked Juan, one of my colleagues in Santo Domingo, where I could go to get a good one. He told me he wasn’t sure because it was not something he usually went out for, but he promised he would ask around.

A few days before I left for the conference, he told me that he mentioned my request to his mother, who replied, “You do not go out for sancocho.” And she offered to make it for us.

On the last day of the conference, Juan and I drove to his mother’s house to pick up her sancocho. Juan’s supervisor had invited us and some of our other colleagues in attendance to her apartment. We were in charge of bringing the main course for the meal.

When we walked inside Juan’s mother’s kitchen, I was immediately hit with an almost popcorn-like smell of toasted rice. As she cooked rice in her cast-iron pot, she drizzled oil down the sides to fry the rice on the side. She asked me (through her son) if I wanted to try some. I nodded enthusiastically. The rice was crispy, but still a bit chewy. I told her it was delicious and I think at that moment we became good friends.

Later, as my colleagues and I feasted on this rich stew, with chicken and pork and beef that all melted in your mouth and vegetables that had taken in all of the flavors of all of the meats, Juan mentioned to everyone that I had inspired the dinner party when I asked about sancocho. And I made sure to give No Reservations credit for introducing me to the dish.

My favorite Anthony Bourdain quote is, “If that sign does not sing to you, then we cannot be friends.” It’s a throwaway reference to a sign for a dive bar in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, but it says a lot to me about his philosophy. My natural tendency is to see something highlighted on TV shows and then go seek out the specific places that are highlighted. But that’s not what he wanted people to do. He wanted us to trust our guts, because even if we sometimes get let down, we’re still better off hanging out with people where they hang out, rather than just traveling out of a guidebook or recreating a trip we saw someone else take on television.

And there is beauty everywhere if we just look for it.

  • Screen capture of Monte Carlo bar in Los Angeles, CA from Parts Unknown: Koreatown, LA aired on 21 April 2013.
  • Picture of sancocho taken with an old BlackBerry camera in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic on 16 November 2012.