Talking travel with Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern (part 2)

I’m here with Andrew Zimmern, the wildly popular host of Travel Channel’s hit series, Bizarre Foods. He’s a personality that needs no introduction–at least around the Gadling water cooler. You could even say he’s our Paris Hilton.

His show–which is about what it sounds like–has just finished its second season, with episodes spanning the globe from Iceland and Bolivia to St. Petersberg and Delhi (check out our episode guides here). Beyond the tube, he’s a celebrated food writer, dining critic, radio talk-show host, and chef. For more Andrew, check out his blog.

In this exclusive interview, Andrew dishes on everything from director Ang Lee’s stinky tofu fetish to his NYC School of Hot Dog Consumption Theory.

What are the top four worst foods you’ve sampled, ranked by terribleness?

  • My aunt’s meatloaf. Horrific. Each slice ringed with an orange pool of fat, spreading out on dirty plastic plates. I was six at the time and it traumatized me.
  • Stinky tofu at Dai’s Sisig in Angeles in the Philippines. It’s a quick hash made with meat and cartilage from chopped pigs faces. It was really nasty.
  • Raw pigs balls sliced and served with raw egg yolks. I ate it at a getemono bar in Tokyo, and texturally and aromatically, it was a real challenge to eat.
  • And I guess to round out the list I would have to choose all the bad versions of dineguen, which is a Malaysian blood soup that I adore, but bad versions of it are just hideous.

Any food you would recommend? (A question for readers who haven’t caught your show)

WOW…all the rest! I think that we are all bored with boneless, skinless chicken breasts wrapped in plastic in the grocers shelves. My show teaches people that if they just put their pinky toe outside their comfort zone, they will end up diving in face first.

I would in general encourage people to eat street foods in the countries they visit, I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the Hard Rock in Beijing is popular with Americans. When you’re in China, why not eat Chinese food? Think of it this way, Kraft American Cheese Singles sound strange to nomadic tribes in Saharan Africa, and roasted sparrows sound weird to kids in Minnesota, but the yuck factor, the contempt prior to investigation is learned behavior, it’s psychological. I have watched little kids dive onto a platter of fried bats in the jungles of South East Asia, but in our country we are taught a mythology of food that is often times misguided at best. The kids in Thailand, or Samoa, don’t have Halloween, or Vampire stories. To them, bats are just yummy, like chicken wings with meaner faces.

I’ve heard you sometimes carry around Pepto-Bismol. What other accessories, food-related or just travel, are must-carry?

For some reason I’m impervious (knock on wood) to stomach troubles, but I always carry Pepto-Bismol with me on the road for peace of mind. It’s smart for any traveler to carry Pepto when visiting new places or experiencing new foods. Because of different security rules around the world, I keep the chewables in my carry on.

I also carry your typical antibiotics and first-aid stuff in case something happens. I think one has to be prepared for anything. I have never had to even take Cipro on the road for traveler’s trots. I never travel without my Grundig world radio for those slow nights when you can’t fall asleep, my iPod is loaded with radio and TV shows “Ring of Fire” from NPR is one I love to listen to late at night). I always bring five more books on the road than I can ever read (William Boyd and Michael Chabon top the list today).

How do you pick the cuisine and the destinations for each season? Do you have local fixers? Tips from viewers? Your mother?

The production company I work with is fantastic and we have a dozen team members who work all year long finding the best stories for our show. Originally we came up with a master list of countries and cities and we are just barreling through them as we go. Sometimes the network wants us in a country because we are doing a network-wide approach to a theme, like China Week. Sometimes we are steered clear of a locale because some other shows on our station just went there and it would be overkill. We use local fixers in all locations and we learn plenty from viewers, we really read all the mail and get our best tips that way. My mom responds to any question she is asked with the standard mom catchphrases about making sure I ate and made my bed.