The culinary conga line that is Bizarre Foods has been on the air for almost 10 years, and in that time, host Andrew Zimmern has had to eat enough suspicious, ridiculous dishes to last a lifetime.
You know that feeling when you’re visiting a friend’s house and you absolutely have to eat whatever he or she has prepared, out of politeness? For Zimmern, it’s more than politeness—it’s unofficial obligation combined with an insatiable curiosity for globe-spanning cuisine. The only difference, however, is that the some of the things he’s had to eat are, at least in appearance, far less appetizing than anything that’s ever been inside your friend’s kitchen. Don’t feel bad for him, though; envy him.
“I am a completely different person 10 years into making this show than I was when I started,” Zimmern says. “The power of travel is transformative. When we go on the road, we become the best version of ourselves we can be. We are way more curious and adventurous, we take risks that we would never take at home. And when you’re on the road as much as I’ve had to be for this show, you begin in a very profound way to change who you are on the road and have experiences that actually imprint on you, and that you export back home.”
If Zimmern has changed due to his time hosting Bizarre Foods, which airs on The Travel Channel Tuesdays at 8 p.m., the show has changed a lot too.
“The show was not good to start,” he says. “When I went to shoot the first three or four episodes, it was me, a producer/writer, and a cameraman. That was it. We hired a driver when we were there. The cameraman ran sound. The producer and I wrote the show at night in a hotel room. It was a three-person operation for the first three or four episodes.”
The turning point came fairly early on, though. On the fourth episode, while shooting in Ecuador, the crew was on break when one of the locals told them there was a witchdoctor who lived on that street—one who would perform an exorcism on Andrew if he had evil spirits in him. In an experimental reverie, the crew decided not only to do it, but to gear up and shoot it. Jay Leno’s people called the day after the episode aired, and demanded to have Andrew on his show, which took off from there.
Since then, the show has become a beautifully shot, well-researched, thoughtfully written hour that’s as much about food as it is a travelogue. Zimmern and co. will head to tropical rainforests in Amazonia, where someone in the market will sell a giant legume that looks like “a huge dinosaur phallus,” which actually can be split open so you can extract a puffy cotton candy-like substance inside that tastes like vanilla ice cream. The unexpected is pretty much status quo on the show.
“I’m surprised when I go somewhere and I see an animal or a food that we hadn’t planned on, and didn’t know existed taxonomically,” Zimmern says. “We’re in many jungles and with tribal peoples, and you see an animal that forces you to start Googling like crazy.”
Of course, not every new culinary adventure on the horizon turns out to be a pleasant one. For every cotton candy vanilla ice cream legume he encounters, there’s also an enset, the fermented and rotted bread that’s buried in the ground for months in Ethiopia before being dug up and served to brave souls, some of whom are on camera.
“It wasn’t pleasant for me,” Zimmern says. “The enset was very, very difficult to eat. However, I was eating it with a tribe in Ethiopia that has very little food, and it’s a great example of one of the lessons of this show. When you’re with a people who have very little and they offer you some of it, you eat it all with a smile. I ate a lot of it and I choked it all down and I hope I never see it again.”
Have a look through the slides above for some of the other more bizarre foods Zimmern has encountered.