Talking travel with Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern (part 3)

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 did you do after you got out of the restaurant business in 1997? How’d you end up on the Travel Channel?

After leaving daily restaurant operations, I started working for a local monthly glossy magazine and a local Fox news station, doing food stories for both. I began to work on several shows on HGTV as a part-time talent and just kept pushing tape everywhere I could. I began to develop a reputation and a following, and eventually started working with a local production company on show ideas. I have always wanted to be the food guy on the Travel Channel. It was my goal from the beginning and once they saw our tapes they commissioned some specials from us, and then those took off and the rest just happened thanks to the viewers. I am totally blessed and the luckiest guy in the world.
Any tips for tackling street vendor food? For me, they’ve been either a cultural delight or a speed ramp to my hotel bathroom.

I use the NYC School of Hot Dog Consumption Theory. I only eat from street vendors with happy customers, long lines and a clean cart. I look for hot food that is really hot and cold food that is really cold. I smell and look at anything twice before I eat it, and I always ask people where the food is from and who made it. You can tell a lot if you follow those rules.

Advice for travelers who want to get over that psychological barrier to trying a bizarre local fare?

Remember when you were seven and your best friend dared you to eat earth worms? Go back to that mind set. The equation changes once you eat your first dish of something that you swore you would never try. It is always better than you thought it would be. Often times it is delicious and then you have to pinch yourself and say “holy crap, I am eating coconut grubs with Pilchi Indians in the Amazon.” It’s all downhill from there.

Can you give us a preview of the next round of Bizarre Foods premieres?

Well, beginning September 9 at 10 PM (ET/PT) on Travel Channel, you will see Hawaii, Paris, Sicily, Goa, Los Angeles, Maine, Turkey, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Korea, Tokyo, Texas, Appalachia, Fiji and Australia. Every show keeps getting better and better, and the people I meet as I travel around the world keep showing us that the planet does taste better one bite at a time. In Maui, we cooked with James McDonald at O’o Farms and then explored the world of SPAM at a local greasy spoon. We killed a wild boar and ate him in the mountains of Hana, we shared dinner with Roy Yamaguchi and then ate wild goat roasted on the slopes of a volcano. In Sicily, we sailed the Mediterranean with a fisherman and then shared a seafood lunch back at his house with a stop along the way for some dried salted tuna sperm. Sounds good, no?

And most importantly, if you and Anthony Bourdain got in a hot dog eating contest, who would win?

Tony is one of my idols, and has become a friend over the years, but trust me when I tell you that it would not even be close.