If you have watched The Travel Channel series, Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, you know there isn't a food that Zimmern won't pass up; he'll eat almost anything, save for a few things that he knows will make him sick. The show was about Zimmern discovering different dishes across the globe that many of us have never heard of or found disgusting. But that was why the show worked, the chance to see a former chef eat crocodile in the Australian outback, puffin in Iceland, brain curry in India and porcupine in Botswana. And somehow, things only get weirder from there and two spin-offs followed: “Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre World” and “Bizarre Foods America.”
Yet Bizarre Foods is not about the food. It's about finding common ground in the different foods we eat. It's about uniting those separate from us, the poor, the diseased, the people who can't be pigeonholed into a single identity. Zimmern's idea was also to shed light on different people who live in different cultures and discover their lives, their lifestyles, by what they ate, a unique look at what the rest of the world puts on its plate. But along the way, the show was also about the fun Zimmern had while digesting the indigestible.
When you talk about Zimmern, often the first thing that comes to mind is what was the grossest food he ate and hated, and the grossest food he ate and fell in love with. So what are there? Well, lucky for you, we've discovered the bizarre foods even Anthony Zimmern won't eat, as well as 15 dishes he recommends.
25 Won't Eat: Rotten Canned Fish, Sweden
Zimmern won't eat surstromming, a fish that is native in Sweden and which is a fermented sea creature in a can. That's because it smells horrible. When Andrew opened the can, everyone on set around him had to cover their noses. Zimmern became aware of the surströmming from his visit to Cypress and Stockholm. As Andrew said to Michigan Avenue magazine, "The smell is comparable to the worst dumpster juice you can possibly imagine with a little mermaid aroma thrown on top."
24 Recommends: Porcupine, Botswana
Zimmern loves eating animals that most of us in the US wouldn't touch. It was in Botswana where he hunted porcupines and fell in love with eating them. The rodent can weigh over 100 pounds and Zimmern joked to The Take Out that it looked like the "rodent from The Princess Bride." A porcupine is covered in fat, and that, as well as the skin, makes it tasty to eat. He said, "We threw [the porcupine] over a dying fire. It became charred and crispy, and the fat melted but was held together by muscle. The fat tasted like olive oil. It was remarkably delicious, rich, and porky."
23 Won't Eat: Durian Fruit, Indonesia
Durian, a fruit that grows in Asia, has by far the worst odor that Zimmern had a hard time eating it. In Southeast Asia, it's a popular snack and is the "king of fruits," according to his blog. Durian is also known to be huge, like a volleyball but heavier. It's even scarier to cut apart, as it is covered all around in green-brown thorns that are so pointy that they could pierce your skin. As Zimmern said, "I just don’t like it. But if you can get past the threatening exterior and the harsh smell, you might end up loving the fruit."
22 Recommends: Pork Brain Tacos, Mexico
In certain circles, mostly gourmands, offal is somewhat of a delicacy, like caviar. It seems like the general truth among chefs is that the parts of animals that are thrown away are the best parts of them But it disgusts many when they remember they are eating pork heads and intestines. Zimmern first tried pork brain tacos when he went to Mexico. As he told The Travel Channel, "Chopped pork brain with red-hot chilies, onions, and cilantro. . . [T]he brains are so creamy, they're just like meat butter."
21 Won't Eat: Rotten Chicken Innards
Zimmern has eaten the weirdest stuff, but according to Travel + Leisure, he made history by refusing to eat rotten chicken innards. He was willing to eat this dish, and he wanted to because he was in someone's home where it was served. But when he was served, he had to momentarily ditch his manners because he knew in an instant that it was a risk to eat, which he knew because there were different colored spots on the intestines, which meant the chicken was diseased.
20 Recommends: Balut, Philippines
Balut is a duck egg that’s been fertilized and the embryo allowed to develop for 14 to 21 days, then steamed or boiled, according to My Recipes. It hails from the Philippines, where it’s known as hot vit lon. Zimmern first tried it there and loved it. You eat it with vinegar once the shell has been peeled away. According to The Travel Channel, balut is not only a breakfast treat but also a hangover cure. That's because the egg contains cysteine, a substance that breaks down toxins in the liver.
19 Won't Eat: Spoiled Tofu, Taipei
In Dai’s House of Unique Stink, a restaurant in Taipei, the specialty is stinky tofu that's a street food staple for decades now. The tofu in question is immersed in a bacterial sludge for many weeks, according to The Daily Meal. When released, the smell is akin to “the bottom of a dumpster at the end of summer," as he said. And then he added, “It’s just horrific.” Yikes. We guess he likes this delicacy. Just kidding!
18 Recommends: Fried Tarantulas, Cambodia
Yuck. Another creepy-crawler treat! When Zimmern visited a small village in Cambodia, he found that the locals routinely eat tarantula spiders. And not only that, they sought out, trapped and cultivated tarantulas to eat as food. You're supposed to deep fry them for the best taste. Zimmern will try anything, but the look on his face, according to The Travel Channel, did not inspire confidence in eating spiders. But then he ate them. And, as a result, he put his signature stamp on it by recommending it as something very good to eat.
17 Won't Eat: Bamboo Rat, Thailand
In Asia, many eat bamboo rat. In season 4 of Bizarre Foods. Andrew Zimmern had to try this when he traveled to Isan in northeastern Thailand. He was there for "rural Thai food," sold at a highway jungle market. There he encountered bamboo rat wrapped in plastic. It looked horrific because the animal had been kept intact, from ears to tail. But he was game to eat it after a local chef spritzed some salt on it, jammed a stick through it and then grilled it, as Serious Eats remarked. That is, not until Zimmern split the rat open and "the smell of its entrails flooded the marketplace." Yep, this is a dish Andrew would never eat again.
16 Recommends: Head Cheese
Like pork brains, head cheese continues with the whole offal theme. For many, head cheese is just a deli cold cut that you slice and eat, and in gourmet grocery stores all over the world, head cheese is sold amid the roast beef and ham. A meat jelly made from the head of a calf, pig or sheep, head cheese is served in aspic, which makes the head cheese turn into a gelatin-like substance. According to Zimmern's blog, head cheese has been eaten for many centuries. Zimmern recommends eating the head of an animal.
15 Won't Drink: Local Water
We all have heard the phrase, "Don't drink the water" when we're traveling to foreign places. In North America, our water is relatively clean and many people trust tap water rather than bottled water. In fact, the city that will surprise you that has the best water supply is New York. So, according to quora.com, Zimmern stays away from the local waters to drink. He'll eat anything if he has to, but if it'll make you sick, he's going to stay away from it.
14 Recommends: Pig Skin Spaghetti
Well, who wouldn't like pigskin spaghetti. This time Zimmern had a break when he tried it at Incanto, Chris Cosentino's restaurant in San Francisco, according to The Travel Channel. If you're squeamish about the pigskin, just remember how it's fried and then called pork rinds, a crunchy and delectable snack. The dish is very popular in central Italian countrysides. Of all the things on this list that Zimmern would eat again or recommend, this takes the cake because it's making us salivate.
13 Won't Eat: Hakarl, Iceland
Hakarl is fermented shark. And it is one of Iceland's most famous dishes and is eaten with relish. The shark dish is prepared by cutting it into slabs and then seasoning it. Then they're hung like meat carcasses and allowed to ferment for a duration of time, around four or five months. Zimmern had to try the shark and immediately after said he didn't enjoy it. He did say that it was one of the worst things he's ever tasted and, because hakari really stank up the place, he'd rather not try the dish again, according to The Daily Meal.
12 Recommends: Grilled Udders, Buenos Aires
When Andrew Zimmern recounted his ten most mouthwatering foods of the Bizarre Foods kind, udders made the list. He was first introduced to udders, which taste best grilled, while at La Brigada in Buenos Aires. He told The Travel Channel that he was "brought into the kitchens at La Brigada and served a variety of grilled beef dishes. The [udders] literally melted in your mouth. I will never forget that meal. It was meat heaven."
11 Won't Eat: Some Very Commonplace Food
There's something really funny about Andrew Zimmern. He has an all-consuming appetite for eating bizarre things like grilled udders as we discussed above, but when it comes time for conventional or commonplace food that people eat every day, he's very peculiar. He doesn't eat oatmeal and raw cookie dough. According to an interview in People, he simply said, “Won’t eat ‘em, can’t stand them. . . I love fermented walrus anus, so I get to not like some things.”
10 Recommends: Cuttlefish, Las Vegas
Cuttlefish is a type of squid and is known as a cuisine in many places, including Italy, South America, France, and Asia. The most famous dish where cuttlefish is used as an ingredient is a fish salad, otherwise known as Insalata di Pesce. Zimmern first discovered cuttlefish when his show, Bizarre Foods America, headed to Las Vegas. The dish was served to him by famous chef Paul Bartolotta, who has a restaurant at the Wynn, according to The Travel Channel.
9 Won't Eat: Walnuts
The funny thing is that Zimmern has traveled the world to eat foods that sound disgusting, like deer penis and cobra blood, but doesn't like certain foods that can be found at grocery stores around the states. He won't eat oatmeal and raw cookie dough, as we mentioned above. And he also will never eat walnuts. In an interview with Yahoo! Lifestyle, Zimmern was asked if there was something he won't try, and Zimmern's response was immediate, saying "Walnuts. I just don’t like walnuts." So why won't he eat it? Well, according to The Daily Meal, it's simple: walnuts taste soapy!
8 Recommends: Grilled Tuna Spine, San Francisco
Andrew Zimmern first tasted tuna spine while in San Francisco. It was during a visit to Incanto, a restaurant helmed by Chef Chris Cosentino. It turned out that Zimmern thought it was "absolutely incredible," as The Travel Channel reported. Zimmern knows that many people would never try the tuna spine, but you should always choose something new. "The grilled tuna spine sounds foreboding, but in Cosentino’s hands it’s a seafaring version of Japanese BBQ," he told Sky Magazine.
7 Won't Eat: Cumin, Northern Africa
Andrew Zimmern has built his empire around wanting to find and eat the weirdest and wildest food across the globe. But one thing he won't touch is cumin. It's not because of the taste--that's mostly why Zimmern won't eat certain foods--but rather because the cumin had been tainted. He told Cinema Blend, "In 2005, I contracted a virus from eating tainted cumin in Northern Africa. Occasionally once a year I have a flare-up of a rare disease called burning mouth syndrome. I pass it off as a simple casualty of war." Zimmern had to go to the ER, so, yeah, he's now scared of cumin.
6 Recommends: Sea Urchin, San Diego
Sea urchins are widespread across the ocean floors of the world. And it turns out that sea urchins are a delicacy among many chefs. Most times they aren't cooked because many believe that they are best eaten raw and fresh. It was during Zimmern's visit to San Diego for an episode of Bizarre Foods America where he tried sea urchin for the first time. According to The Travel Channel, at a premiere seafood purveyor, Catalina Offshore Products, Zimmern discovered the dish and loved it, even if eating sea urchin is made without cooking it.
5 Recommends: Donkey Skin, Beijing
Donkey skin is not only a delicacy but also a medicine that can make your skin taut, hydrated and remove deep wrinkles over time. In traditional Chinese medicine, the donkey’s skin, called ejiao, will do all that to make your skin feel luxuriant. Donkey skin is sliced thin and then stir-fried and, according to Zimmern's blog, he admitted that it’s one of the great wok-tossed dishes of the world. A food that tastes good and makes you feel beautiful, donkey skin should be served in more restaurants.
4 Recommends: Chicken Wings
We often forget that Zimmern was a chef since he's now a star. Zimmern wanted to make Chinese chicken wings but after several attempts, the dish wasn't good enough for his exacting standards, so he asked a friend to help. It worked. As Zimmern said on his website, "Of all the dishes I’ve tasted around the world, this is the one I’m happiest to have brought home and perfected in my own kitchen." He also called his chicken "sticky, fatty, salty and sweet."
3 Recommends: Kudu, South Africa
When Zimmern was in South Africa, he ate fresh kudu. He had this to say to The Take Out: "Probably the best meat I’ve ever eaten. . . It’s one of 20 in the African venison family. . . [K]udu itself, the meat is pale pink, light, and sweet—a beautiful, delicate flavor. There’s not an organ or muscle on that animal that isn’t delicious. If I put a seared kudu chop in front of you, you would think you’re having the finest veal you’ve ever eaten. Just sublime."
2 Recommends: Roast Chicken, Vietnam
According to Zimmern, his all-time favorite meal is his grandmother's roast chicken. If you think his best meal is normal and not strange, weird or gross, think again. His version of roast chicken is more exotic than his grandmother's. As he told Travel + Leisure, he'd get the chicken "from a small town in Vietnam where little baby ducks and chickens are cleaned, marinated in fish sauce and lime juice and rock sugar and chilies, and then deep-fried." He added that you eat the entire bird save for the beak and it can be "one of the greatest poultry eating experiences you can ever have.”
1 Recommends: Sea Squirts, Chile
Zimmern enjoys eating sea squirts, which he encountered from visits to Korea and Japan. He called the sea squirts "delicious." In Chile, where the food is called pure, they're "sliced open with a serrated sword to reveal the little throbbing corpuscles that live inside the spongy, rocklike carapace," as he wrote on his website. He added that they taste like "pure iodine dipped inside a fish’s ass." Ouch! However, with a squirt of lemon, "they are transformed into deliciousness. Culinary alchemy at its finest."