Anthony Bourdain takes readers on a spooky food journey in ‘Hungry Ghosts’

Joel Rose was friends with Anthony Bourdain going back to the 1980s, in a grittier, very different New York City.

The New York-based author  says that he helped the late chef and TV personality “with his writing, guided him.”

“I published his first story in Between C&D, a magazine I published on dot-matrix paper out of the East Village in the mid-80s,” Rose says. “We edited his ‘Typhoid Mary’ book, part of my Urban Historical series. ‘Kitchen Confidential’ had its birth out of an email he sent me from Japan.”

Their most fruitful collaboration was in graphic novels.

“He was always after me to do a graphic novel with him,” Rose says. “We went back and forth, almost like a volley, long and satisfying. As he liked to say, I did the heavy lifting, set up the structure, and then we went at it to fill in the blanks.”

The duo ended up doing the 2012 graphic novel “Get Jiro!” with artist Langdon Foss, and a prequel, “Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi,” with artist Alé Garza, in 2015.

Their latest collaboration, the four-issue series “Hungry Ghosts,” comes out in collected form on Tuesday.

The book is a collection of nine spooky, food-inspired ghost stories in the style of an ancient Japanese game called Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai (100 Candles), where samurai would take turns telling scary stories.

For cooking fans, “Hungry Ghosts” also features five recipes from Bourdain that were inspired by the stories from the book, including osso buco, saffron risotto and ramen.

amNewYork chatted with Rose about the book:

What is the significance of these recipes?

Those recipes are out of the book, each culled from a story. We changed the samurais who played 100 Candles into chefs, and made each story have a food connection. It worked great for us and the idea for the recipes came from Karen Berger, our editor, and Tony stepped up with glee.

People know Bourdain’s legacy in the food world. Can you discuss his legacy in the comic world?

Tony loved comics. He wanted to be a comic book artist. That’s how I met him. He sent me a comic he had written and drawn, hoping I would publish it in Between C&D. I wrote back, telling him the artwork was less than he might hope, but the writing, more. Next thing I knew, he showed up at my door. We were friends ever after.

What kind of research went into this book?

When Tony first told me about the samurai test of courage, the game of 100 Candles, Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, I had no idea. My first stop for research was Lafcadio Hearn, a late 19th-century scholar. Hearn had lived in Japan, taught there and studied. He married and even took a Japanese name. His 1903 book, “Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things,” is a much-respected touchstone for entry into the world of Japanese ghosts: yurei, yokai, and obake, spirits, goblins and shape-shifters. 

The book’s dedication is to the old horror comics from the 1950s, including EC Comics. Where did your adoration of those books come from?

For me, growing up, my uncle gave me his comic collection from the late ’40s and ’50s. I fell in love with EC, and Tony loved them, too. It was natural when we began to think about how we wanted our book to look and feel that we would go back to those incredible, classic comic touchstones. It was our intent to resurrect a host character along the lines of our adored Crypt Keeper, Old Witch and Vault Keeper. We did it with glee and out of respect. “Hungry Ghosts” is all an homage to those pre-comics code days.

Do you have a favorite memory about Anthony that you can share?

I have many favorite memories. Every memory I have of him is favorite. One funny one was a day he decided to cook for us. We had a bunch of friends and family over and he was busy doing all this stuff. He steamed clams, and one of our guests became really, really sick. Tony was mortified, but our friend waved him off. He said he was happy to be retching his brains out, that he would have a story for life, how Anthony Bourdain had poisoned him.

Do you cook? If so, what is your signature dish?

I have four kids and I work at home. I’ve been cooking forever. I’m no master, but I’m serviceable. My signature dish? My family, both sides, is Hungarian. Cabbage and noodles is pure comfort food for me. Unfortunately, I’m the only one in the family who likes it. But I love it. I make it for myself. Especially when I’m feeling down or disoriented.

Cooking with ‘Hungry Ghosts’

This saffron risotto is one of five original recipes from Anthony Boudian featured in "Hungry Ghosts."

Saffron risotto

Serves 6 as a side dish

  • 1 ½ quarts chicken stock
  • 6 to 8 best-quality saffron threads
  • 1/4 cup Italian extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small white onion, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 1/2 cups carnaroli rice
  • 1/2 cup dry Italian white wine
  • 4 tbsp. salted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Salt to taste

1. Combine half the chicken stock and saffron threads in a small pan and bring to a simmer to draw the flavor, color and aroma from the threads into the stick.

2. In a medium-sized pot, gently heat the oil and stir in the onion, taking care to get each piece coated with oil. Cook gently, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft and translucent; do not let it brown. Add the rice, stirring carefully so that it’s well-distributed with the onions. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 4 minutes, to gently toast the rice. Stir in the wine and take the heat back down to medium-low. Continue to cook, stirring regularly, as the rice eventually absorbs all the wine and the alcohol smell can no longer be detected.

3. To this mixture, add a ladleful of the warm saffron-infused stock. Continue to stir and add more stock as it becomes absorbed, eventually also adding the reserved, non-infused chicken stock, a ladleful at a time. Once or twice before all the stock is absorbed, check the rice of its state of doneness: at the end, it should yield to the bite and be cooked all the way through, but still maintain its structural integrity.

4. Now, assess the texture of the risotto. Is it runny enough to cover the bottom of the bowl without coaxing? If not, stir in a little more stock until it’s the correct consistency.

5. Now, add the butter chunks and the cheese and beat it with a light hand into the hot rice, incorporating some air and lightening the consistency somewhat as you go. Taste the risotto and season with salt if necessary. Serve immediately.

Reprinted from "Hungry Ghosts" by Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose, with permission from Dark Horse, 2018.


  • Writer Joel Rose, editor Karen Berger and artists Paul Pope, Vanesa Del Rey and Jose Villarrubia will discuss "Hungry Ghosts" with moderator Abraham Riesman on Thursday at 6 p.m. at B&N Tribeca | 97 Warren St. | priority seating with book purchase, bn.com
  • During New York Comic Con at the Javits Center, Rose and Berger will participate in the "Berger Books: The Second Wave" panel on Friday from 12:30-1:30 p.m. (Room1A2), and Rose will sign copies at the Dark Horse Comics booth (#1636) on Friday from 2-3 p.m. | 655 W. 34th St. | must have NYCC badge, newyorkcomiccon.com