Andrew Zimmern, host of the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods, roams the planet to taste things like dung beetles (Thailand), tarantulas (Cambodia), pickled bull's heart (Russia), and rooster-testicle soup (Taiwan). But Zimmern's goal isn't just to gross us out — there's a message in his madness.
Q: You eat a lot of bizarre foods that you say aren't just tasty but also affordable and sustainable. What are some of your favorites?
A: It's funny, you can paint a thousand pictures, and people still might not call you an artist. But if you eat one bug, then you're the bug-eater for life. On my show, we've done more segments on three-star restaurants in Europe than we have bug-eating scenes, but everyone remembers the bug scenes.
Really, it's all the stuff in between that I want people to pay attention to. For instance, I love the night markets in Taiwan and all over Asia, where you find chicken vendors with skewers of skin and feet and the pope's nose — the little tushy where the tail feathers are — and the neck and all these wonderful parts. And they grill it all and toss it with soy sauce and scallions and rice wine vinegar and chillies, and you just can't stop eating it. It's all the charred little bits of the chicken, and absolutely nothing goes to waste. Every time I turn someone on to it — cameramen, producers — they just light up when they eat it. It's so much better than grilled white-meat chicken breast.
When I was in Bolivia, a very, very poor country, we waited in line at a woman's — I want to say "stand," but really she just has an old oil can that she puts a grill on top of, and she has a bucket with about 20 pounds of paper-thin slices of calves' hearts. She touches the slices on this really hot grill so they're kind of medium-rare, and then she adds a homemade sauce: peanuts, chili, garlic, vinegar. It's only like a nickel for a bowl of this stuff, so you get all these different kinds of people in line together — people who are headed off to the opera standing next to beggars. You watch people, and after the first bite, they almost do this dance; it's so ridiculously good. These are things that everybody in our country runs away from. Don't be afraid of eating calves' hearts, or pig livers, or small little fish with the heads on them that come out of the Adriatic Sea and the Venetian lagoon and are deep-fried and served in little wine bars.
Q: How do you define sustainable eating?
A: I was with a small hunting-and-gathering tribe of Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert in Africa, maybe 24 people, and one of the shamans told me they never kill any animal bigger than what would feed their group for one day. While I was there, they killed a porcupine. It was huge, maybe 60 pounds. They had enough for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that day. And by evening, they were turning the porcupine quills into jewelry.