8 Appetizing Facts About Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern

Travel Channel
Travel Channel

Though the foodie culture that has emerged over the last decade has emboldened eaters to venture outside of their culinary comfort zones, quirky food trucks and a few fried grasshoppers at a ballgame have nothing on the dishes highlighted on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. The Travel Channel series, which debuted in 2006, takes Zimmern—a chef who was born in New York City but began his career in Minneapolis—across the globe to try the unique delicacies offered by cultures on nearly every continent. He’s eaten crocodile in the Australian outback, devoured puffin in Iceland, and brain curry in India. And somehow, things only get weirder from there.

While you might not be able to stomach everything that's cooked on the show (it takes a special type of person to watch Zimmern eat some braised tuna eyeballs), it's is a unique look at what the rest of the world puts on its plate. Dig deeper into this Travel Channel staple with these facts about Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.

1. THE SHOW ISN’T ACTUALLY ABOUT BIZARRE FOODS.

Sure, oddities like donkey salami and bull testicle soup (affectionately called Soup Number Five) get you to tune in, but for Zimmern, Bizarre Foods is really a show about tolerance—and not in a back-to-school special sort of way.

“I didn’t care about bizarre foods," Zimmern told Yahoo!. "The show I sold was about preaching patience, tolerance, and understanding about things that separated us; different sexualities, different skin colors. I wanted to talk about things we had in common. I thought I was the best guy to do that, because I had the ability to look at bowl of soup and tell you its cultural definition.”

Zimmern had been approached before about having a more traditional cooking show, as a chef behind a cutting board walking the viewer through how to make each dish. But he told Disruption Magazine that “I think food can change the way people see the world,” so he set out to show audiences how different—but ultimately similar—we all are through the lens of a freshly cooked meal.

2. THE SHOW ISN’T AS IMPROVISED AS YOU’D THINK.

What makes Bizarre Foods work so well is the natural feel of the show. The cameras follow Zimmern as he casually wanders through Moroccan marketplaces, explores the South Korean nightlife, or samples street food in Singapore. It takes a lot of planning to look so improvised, and the people behind the show have had to adapt over the years and plan more meticulously for the stories Zimmern and crew want to tell.

“We used to stumble upon things more than we do,” Zimmern told The A.V. Club. “As the show has become bigger, and therefore more expensive to make, and there’s more advertising sold against it, and it becomes a bigger part of the network plan, we can’t risk going somewhere and not coming back with a certain number of stories to fill up our hour. So we know when we go to, whether it’s Detroit or Djibouti, we know that we’re going to go there, and here’s six stories we’re doing.”

Even the best-laid plans can change at a moment’s notice, and something more interesting than the original idea can walk in front of them and alter the show's direction. “Sometimes the stories are harder to find,” Zimmern continued, “but we spend a lot of time parsing on the ground. ‘Okay, let’s not do this because what’s in front of us is even more interesting.' I mean, we’re a TV crew. If a unicorn walks in front of us, I’m gonna eat him.”

3. THE SHOW FEATURED ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST NOTORIOUS FOODS.

From tarantulas to rectum sausage, Zimmern has wolfed down nearly every animal, bug, and strange plant you could imagine, usually with a reassuring grin to tell audiences that the sea cucumber he’s munching on isn’t nearly as repulsive as you’d think. That is, unless it’s fermented.

Zimmern has gone on record as saying the “worst tasting foods are the fermented spoiled ones.” And in one episode, while visiting Iceland, he got to eat one of the most repulsive examples of fermented food: Hakarl, which is basically rotting Greenlandic shark. All it takes is a quick Google search to see that Hakarl is almost universally accepted as the worst food on the planet.

The flesh of the shark is poisonous when fresh, so it’s first buried underground with stones placed on top to squeeze the toxic moisture out. After a few weeks or months of that, it’s dug up, cut up, and left to hang for a few more months to cap off the rotting process. Though the shark literally “oozes toxic ammonia” for months, it’s a delicacy in Iceland that goes back to Viking times (though even Icelandic natives that eat it today describe it as tasting like ammonia and urine).

Hakarl has gained worldwide infamy due to its, well, repulsive preparation. But Zimmern managed to brave the rotting shark, saying it was “ultimately sweet, nutty and faintly fishy … if you like ammoniated wax.”

4. ZIMMERN WAS BESTED BY SOME STINKY TOFU.

Though the Hakarl must have been unpleasant, Zimmern managed to eat it with smile on his face. The same can’t be said for the “stinky tofu” he was served during the episode in Taiwan. The tofu is thrown in a brine with a mix of vegetables for two years at room temperature, and when it was served to Zimmern, he said he couldn’t get it down past the back of his mouth. A video from Great Big Story features the same restaurant he visited—Dai's House of Unique Stink—and the smell emanating from the dish is likened to rotten garbage or feet.

Though Zimmern says he’s eaten stinky tofu with no problem before, Dai’s House of Unique Stink proved to be a challenge that not even he could best. He had less luck with a 1000-year-old egg, which, can you blame him?

5. SEA URCHIN, HORSE MANE, AND DONKEY WERE AMONG HIS FAVORITE DISHES ON THE SHOW.

Bizarre Foods isn’t aimed at audiences with a weak stomach, but the show makes sure to point out that these strange dishes aren’t just edible—in many cases they’re quite delicious. When asked by the Travel Channel about some of his favorite bizarre foods, Zimmern name-checked everything from cow udders he ate during the Buenos Aires episode to the (shudder) donkey skin he indulged in while filming the Beijing episode.

6. ONE OF ZIMMERN’S LEAST FAVORITE FOODS IS THE HUMBLE WALNUT.

Though Zimmern has gone on record to talk about his challenges with certain fermented foods and especially pungent stinky tofu, his least favorite food is the walnut, because, according to The Daily Meal, he claims “they taste soapy.” Sounds like a joke? Well here’s a video of him spitting out some food made with walnuts. For the sake of irony, here’s a video of him not spitting out—and even enjoying—something called maggot cheese.

7. ZIMMERN’S ONLY REAL FOOD-RELATED ILLNESS CAME FROM TAINTED CUMIN.

Zimmern’s choice of unusual cuisine may raise some eyebrows, but the host says out of everything he’s eaten, both for pleasure and on the show, the only time he’s gotten really sick is from his trip to Morocco when he ingested some tainted cumin.

The result was something called burning mouth syndrome, which is a virus that—you guessed it—causes a burning or tingling sensation in a person’s mouth following the infection. It never really goes away, but Zimmern also says it’s only flared up a few times in the decade since he first contracted it. He told The Huffington Post that he carries a “steroidal rinse” for his mouth should it ever reemerge.

8. SOCIAL ISSUES IN THE U.S. INSPIRED THE MOST RECENT SEASON.

Zimmern’s initial concept of a show that unifies the globe through food has never been timelier—though now he’s looking to do so in his own backyard. So for the series's latest season, which wrapped up in September, the production stayed (mostly) in the United States, to show how the country thrives when different cultures, customs, and cuisines meld together in unison.

“The problem that we always try to solve with the show is this notion that the world needs more patience, tolerance, and understanding with each other,” Zimmern told Esquire. “And if I could pick one place on Earth where people need more patience, tolerance, and understanding with each other, it's America in 2017.”

The premise of the season was to highlight that “there's a whole world within our own history and background that shows us to be a nation of immigrants, embracing commonality as Americans about the good things we share and not about the things that have been dividing us historically.”

Along the way, the show provided a look into Americana itself, exploring the cuisine of the Yukon Trail, Erie Canal, and the life of a Texan cowboy.

Kit Harington Reveals Which Harry Potter Character He'd Want to Play in a Prequel

Kit Harington is clearly drawn to dark, brooding characters.

Winter is Coming reports that Harington, who is best known for his role as Jon Snow in the hard-hitting HBO series Game of Thrones, spoke on a panel at ACE Comic Con this past weekend. Though he was there to discuss his upcoming role as Dane Whitman, a.k.a. Black Knight, in the upcoming Marvel Studios film The Eternals, his involvement in—and love for—other franchises came up during the conversation.

The moderator of the panel surprised the audience by bringing up Harington’s love for the Harry Potter series, and, of course, asked him which Hogwarts house he aligns with. The 32-year-old actor responded, “I am a Gryffindor. I’ve thought very deeply about it.” Though Harington himself identifies with the lion-hearted, he does believe that Jon Snow would be a Hufflepuff because of his undying loyalty.

Harington was then asked which character he would want to play in a hypothetical Harry Potter prequel movie about the Marauders—a group of Gryffindors that included James Potter (Harry’s dad), Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew, who attended Hogwarts a generation before Harry and his friends. And who were often at odds with Slytherin Severus Snape.

Harington's response was immediate, and enthusiastic:

Severus Snape is the most tragic, wonderful, brilliant [character] ... He’s a character you hate, and then end up loving. He’s just phenomenal. I don’t think I’m right for him, so I’ll play Sirius. But, whoever gets to play Snape, that’s a great character.”

[h/t Winter Is Coming]

Disney's 10 Scariest Movies

Lynn-Holly Johnson, Bette Davis, and Kyle Richards in The Watcher in the Woods (1980).
Lynn-Holly Johnson, Bette Davis, and Kyle Richards in The Watcher in the Woods (1980).
Walt Disney Pictures

Disney: Known for catchy songs, cute animal sidekicks, brave Princesses … and occasionally scarring children for life. A lot of Disney’s more famously upsetting moments have to do with deathBambi’s mother and Mufasa’s father, for instance—but sometimes the studio goes plain horror movie with it. As Halloween approaches, here are 10 of Disney’s scariest movies.

1. Return to Oz (1985)

Return Oz establishes its “wait, what the hell am I watching?” cred early on, when Dorothy Gale—back in Kansas following her adventures in Oz—is shipped off to the doctor for a round of electroshock therapy to cure her insomnia and “delusions.” Dorothy is saved from her One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest fate and whisked off to Oz again, where she finds that the Nome King and Princess Mombi—Nicol Williamson and Jean Marsh, who also played the doctor and head nurse—have destroyed the Emerald City and turned most of its inhabitants to stone. Playing Dorothy in her first feature film role is Fairuza Balk, who would go on to star in perpetual Halloween favorite The Craft. Return to Oz is the only film directed by legendary editor Walter Murch, most famous for his work on Apocalypse Now.

2. Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

The collected works of Ray Bradbury have been adapted into dozens of films, only a handful of which were written by the late author himself. The final feature film to be written by Bradbury is 1983’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, which in its first act is a typical, sweet—if somewhat dark—drama about two young boys growing up in a small town in the Midwest. Then a carnival rolls into town, and things get real messed up. Running the carnival is Mr. Dark (Jonathan Pryce), who grants the townspeople’s wishes in ways that … well, let’s just say they’re not very nice.

3. Mr. Boogedy (1986)

“Made-for-TV ‘80s movie about a gag gift salesman and his family” doesn’t scream terror, but Mr. Boogedy defies the odds to have some legitimately creepy moments. Granted, it’s not a subtle film: a family that moves into a dilapidated mansion in a town called called Lucifer Falls shouldn’t really expect to have an easy go of things. The mansion, believe it or not, is haunted by not one but three spirits: a widow, her child, and the eponymous Mr. Boogedy, who back in Colonial times sold his soul to Satan for a cloak that gives him magical powers. It’s Mr. Boogedy’s character design that gives the movie its biggest ick factor; the film’s makeup designer, Rick Stratton, would go on to win two Emmys. Mr. Boogedy’s cloak is eventually sucked into a possessed vacuum cleaner.

4. The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

Director John Hough’s The Watcher in the Woods isn’t only scary because it gives Bette Davis and current Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star (and then-child actress) Kyle Richards a decent chunk of shared screen time. Based on a 1976 novel, the film—like Mr. Boogedy—follows a family that moves into a mysterious house haunted by some mysterious presence. In The Watcher in the Woods, that presence is thought to be Karen, the long-disappeared daughter of the house’s owner, played by a collecting-those-paychecks Davis. Spoiler alert: There are actually two presences. One is Karen. The other is an alien. The original ending of The Watcher in the Woods actually showed the alien, but the effects were so bad that the premiere audience broke out laughing, causing Hough to reshoot the climactic final scene with the aliens as a vague blur of light.

5. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

Released in 1949, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is made up of two half-hour, kid-friendly literary adaptations, the first from The Wind in the Willows and the second from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Neither segment is particularly scary … up until the last few minutes of “Sleepy Hollow,” when the animators went all-out to make schoolteacher Ichabod Crane’s flight from the Headless Horseman a contender for Disney’s scariest scene. Clyde Geronimi, who with Jack Kinney directed the “Sleepy Hollow” sequence, would go on to co-direct Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, and 101 Dalmatians.

6. Pinocchio (1940)

Jiminy Cricket hopping around and The Blue Fairy singing “When You Wish Upon a Star” might be the most enduring images from Disney’s second-ever animated feature, but let’s not forget that Pinocchio could be scary when it needed to be. The film’s most potent bit of nightmare fuel comes in the scene where a bunch of children are magically transformed into terrified, crying donkeys so they could be sold away as slave labor. Looks like Disney had a taste for causing childhood trauma early on.

7. “The Skeleton Dance” (1929)

Spooky and cute: Why not both? The 1929 short “The Skeleton Dance” threads the needle deftly, with its depiction of a quartet of skeletons dancing around a graveyard maintaining the goofy tone that marks most of the early Disney shorts while still providing an ample dose of the shivers. “The Skeleton Dance” was drawn by Ub Iwerks, who several years earlier had designed Mickey Mouse.

8. Fantasia (1940)

Most of the segments in Disney’s Fantasia are markedly un-creepy—unless you consider ballet-dancing hippos disturbing, which makes a fair amount of sense—but with “Night on Bald Mountain,” Disney went full dark and stormy night. Set to the title song by composer Modest Mussorgsky, the film depicts the ancient Slavic deity Chernabog (whose name means “black god) calling all sorts of assorted demonic creatures to him before being driven away by the rising of the sun. Bela Lugosi served as a live-action reference for Chernabog, spending a day at Disney Studios striking a series of ominous poses. Nothing that Lugosi provided was ultimately used, as animator Bill Tylta was unimpressed by it.

9. The Black Cauldron (1985)

The Black Cauldron was an infamous failure for Disney, earning a mere $20 million domestically against a budget that made it, at the time, "the most expensive animated feature ever made.” With the film, Disney ditched the songs and lighthearted feel that marked its animated features up to that point in favor of a darker fantasy epic; notably, The Black Cauldron was the first Disney animated feature to earn a PG rating. Though it’s notoriously regarded as a flop, there’s one area in which The Black Cauldron is quite successful: making its villain, the Horned King, absolutely terrifying. Even the way he dies is nightmare-inducing: The magical black cauldron that the Horned King hoped would give him power to take over the world with an undead army instead melts his flesh off. It’s a bit more gruesome than the typically death-by-falling most Disney villains get.

10. Hocus Pocus (1993)

Initially released in 1993 to middling box office returns (Disney made the odd choice to release this Halloween-themed movie in July), director Kenny Ortega’s Hocus Pocus has gone on to achieve cult status. Omri Katz, since retired from acting, stars as Max Dennison, who with neighbor Allison and younger sister Dani must defeat the Sanderson sisters, a trio of witches who were hanged during the Salem witch trials. One of the witches was played by Sarah Jessica Parker, whose ancestor Esther Elwell was accused of being a witch in 17th-century Salem; she escaped execution when prosecution from witchcraft was done away with.

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