The season premiere episode of Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods America” hosted by two-time James Beard Award-winning TV personality Andrew Zimmern takes place in Washington, D.C. While here, he explored some of the more unusual food truck offerings – from a spicy pig sandwich (peanut butter with red jalapeno jelly, prosciutto, bacon and apple slices), the Spam Masube (slice of Spam surrounded by sushi rice, wrapped in nori) and beef tongue Mexican tacos. He also ate kosher soul food and Salvadoran favorites. We chatted with Zimmern by phone today to discuss — of all things — testicles. He prefers them smaller — less gamey that way, he says. He has eaten them all over the world as well as a host of other bizarre foods. No doubt, Zimmern is a relentless traveler. He grew up in Manhattan, a city he calls the best food city in the word in terms of variety, quality and authenticity. But now lives in Edina, Minn. and travels 32-33 weeks out of the year. The place he visits more than any other? “Oh God, Disney World!” he exclaims. Zimmern has an 8-year-old son whom he misses when he’s away. So weekend trips to the Magic Kingdom are routine. “It really is a magical place,” he says. The Washington-based show airs Monday, Feb. 11 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Incidentally, the Travel Channel is based in D.C. Read more about Zimmern on website here.
FBDC: First off, how is your stomach holding up? Great, how yours? FBDC: Well, I had apples today. You’ve eaten piglet testicles. AZ: More people got sick last year eating apples than pig testicles so you may want to revisit that.
FBDC: Okay, well, moving on. How did you get into the bizarre foods business? AZ: I didn’t. I’m in the business of telling stories about cultures with food. I think food with a story other people haven’t heard about is best of all. I’m a storyteller. If you want to look at food with great stories, you look at the fringe. I think that sometimes more extreme examples of culture are the best examples. I wanted to call the show “Chew on This” but my friend Eric Schlosser had already taken that for one of his books. Bizarre really means unique and interesting and people are now embracing the warm and cuddly aspects of the word.
FBDC: What do deep fried piglet testicles taste like? Well, the ones that I have had, they were brined in a salt and brown sugar. They were a little bit hamtastic, which was a wonderful surprise. The smaller the testicles, the less gamey they can be, which is why I like poultry testicles. The little piglet ones were fantastic. I also had squirrel testicles in our Arkansan episode, which were small, tender and delicious as well. There’s no point in eating testicles just for testicles sake. I eat food because it’s prepared well. For me, a lot of the testicle eating falls in the category of anthropological discovery. FBDC: I think sometimes it’s impossible to eat something because of how it sounds. Like eel, for instance. It sounds horrible. I can’t eat it even though I know it may be delicious. AZ: We are psychologically predisposed to attach certain feelings to certain foods. I’m not going to take away your feelings. Whatever any individual feels is their realty. There are many cultures that eat bats regularly. We don’t. Before we ever seeing a bat in real life, we are convinced they are dirty, they are related to Dracula. There are all of these cultural markers that mess us up.
Has Zimmern ever gotten sick from anything he’s eaten? Just the question pisses him off.
FBDC: Have you always eaten bizarre foods? AZ: Yes, I’m fascinated. I’ve always eaten this way. The big issue I have is trying to discern from these cultures is how they get to where they’ve got eating what they have. The wonderful thing about bizarre foods, and I take great pride in it, is the vast majority of shows that cover food and travel are hosted by people who don’t have a lifetime background in food and travel, which is fine. It’s not a prerequisite. I was doing what I was doing long before the cameras joined me. There’s not only expertise, but passion and authenticity. I am not there to make fun or have a Borat moment with some of our guests. I’m a steward of my culture as well as being a culinary anthropologist and explorer in another culture.
FBDC: Have you ever gotten sick from some bizarre thing you’ve eaten? AZ: No! Everyone but me is upset about it. I think everyone would be thrilled if I turned around to the camera and projectile vomited. Occasionally you have some indigestion. I have it more often at home than on the road. I don’t mind anyone asking me. I finally isolated what angers me about it — it’s the extreme ethnocentric [quality] to it that assumes the food I’m eating is dirtier or less sanitary. And that’s just wrong. I don’t mind you asking, but it’s exactly the point we’re trying to make. My point is, we need to shed some of these perjorative psychological stereotypes. We need to shed some of our preconceived notions, our contempt prior to investigation.
FBDC: What did you think of hosting your show in Washington, D.C.? AZ: It’s a blast. I went snakehead fishing, I cooked in a couple of places, cooked with Jose Andres, ate from food trucks and spent some time at La Chaqueta. I loved Central American food, it’s a hidden part of the food scene in D.C. that very few people understand. I ate pepusas, grilled fish. I love D.C. I’m there three to four times a year.
FBDC: You have political aspirations? AZ: I’ve made no secret about it. One of my career paths I’m considering when the entertainment industry is done with me is I’d love to be of service in my community. Minnesota has a long history of electing citizens. FBDC: What office would you like to hold? AZ: I’d like to be very hyper local. The citizens of Minnesota will decide when and if they want me to represent them somewhere. But that’s at least a decade away.