One man's moose nose jelly is another man's roasted sugar cane rat. Or at least that's the logic that keeps Andrew Zimmern's appetite whet.
As host of the Travel Channel's "Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern," the Minnesota family man travels the globe with an open mind, and with a mouth open even wider, on a quest to taste the world's strangest foods.
Rather than trying to be brave, Zimmern is out to prove "weird" is just relative. If he gets to savor the occasional donkey skin or camel kidney on the way, all the better.
"My son thinks it's weird if I put barbecue sauce on my chicken," he said, hoping to explain how he rationalizes his current craving for "yak-based products."
Zimmern is not wrong, but even within cultures of haute cuisine there are some ingredients that cause outright shock.
French President Francois Mitterrand once caused a national scandal after serving ortolan at a state dinner. The tiny French songbirds, which are caught live, drowned in Armagnac, roasted and eaten whole, have since been outlawed on dinner menus. Supposedly they taste like hazelnuts.
It's one thing to take a risk with a usual ingredient prepared by a gourmet chef, but Zimmern's approach is an entirely different proposition. From drumming up desert ants with a tribe in Ethiopia to flushing out cave bats in Malaysia, there's nothing Zimmern won't try.
Sometimes though, even this man with an iron stomach can be caught off guard. Here are some of the biggest surprises he's found along his culinary odyssey.
Unique to the coasts of Chile and Peru, the piure is a rare bottom-dwelling invertebrate that vaguely resembles a basketball; it's so rare that Zimmern hadn't even heard of the mollusk when he found his first. To his shock and delight, after prying open the rough skin, he discovered hundreds of juicy, oysterlike pods.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Zimmern.
Locally the piure is a sought-after delicacy, enjoyed either raw or seasoned with lemon, onion and coriander. How'd they taste?
"Like a fish's ass dipped in iodine," Zimmern said. Many South Americans also enjoy the shellfish boiled and served with rice or on toast.
Chafaina: cow vein stew
Chunos: freeze-dried rotten potatoes
The sight of a cockroach makes most urban dwellers queasy. On the beach of Phuket, their larger sea cricket cousins may be paler, but their spindly insect bodies still make many squirm. Not Zimmern.
Photo courtesy Andrew Zimmern.
"They taste exactly like shrimp heads: briny and intense," he said. As such, sea cicadas are typically cooked like shrimp in Southeast Asia, either as part of stir-fry rice or noodles, or tempura-battered and deep-fried.
Thai Pla: fish stomach salted and fermented for three months
Balut: fertilized duck embryo, boiled or steamed and eaten in shell
From creepy crawlies to hopping wallabies, Zimmern's always prepared to hunt down his dinner. In the Australian outback Zimmern caught, skinned, skewered and seared "one of [his] favorite red meats" over an open fire.
These kangaroolike marsupials, which Zimmern insists are "delicious," are also a very important meat source for aborigines living in the bush.
In contemporary Aussie cuisine, wallaby is often diced and substituted for beef in dishes like shepherd's pie or lasagna, or can be roasted whole as a steak.