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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.

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10 Filling Facts About A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Though it may not be as widely known as It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown or A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving has been a beloved holiday tradition for many families for more than 40 years now. Even if you've seen it 100 times, there’s still probably a lot you don’t know about this Turkey Day special.

1. IT’S THE FIRST PEANUTS SPECIAL TO FEATURE AN ADULT VOICE.

We all know the trombone “wah wah wah” sound that Charlie Brown’s teacher makes when speaking in a Peanuts special. But A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, which was released in 1973, made history as the first Peanuts special to feature a real, live, human adult voice. But it’s not a speaking voice—it’s heard in the song “Little Birdie.”

2. IT WASN’T JUST ANY ADULT WHO LENT HIS VOICE TO THE SPECIAL.

Being the first adult to lend his or her voice to a Peanuts special was kind of a big deal, so it makes sense that the honor wasn’t bestowed on just any old singer or voice actor. The song was performed by composer Vince Guardaldi, whose memorable compositions have become synonymous with Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang.

“Guaraldi was one of the main reasons our shows got off to such a great start,” Lee Mendelson, the Emmy-winning producer who worked on many of the Peanuts specials—including A Charlie Brown Thanksgivingwrote for The Huffington Post in 2013. “His ‘Linus and Lucy,’ introduced in A Charlie Brown Christmas, set the bar for the first 16 shows for which he created all the music. For our Thanksgiving show, he told me he wanted to sing a new song he had written for Woodstock. I agreed with much trepidation as I had never heard him sing a note. His singing of ‘Little Birdie’ became a hit."

3. DESPITE THE VOICE, THERE ARE NO ADULTS FEATURED IN THE SPECIAL.

While Peanuts specials are largely populated by children, there’s usually at least an adult or two seen or heard somewhere. That’s not the case with A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving may be the only Thanksgiving special (live or animated) that does not include adults,” Mendelson wrote for HuffPo. “Our first 25 specials honored the convention of the comic strip where no adults ever appeared. (Ironically, our Mayflower special does include adults for the first time.)”

4. LUCY IS MOSTLY M.I.A., TOO.

Though early on in the special, viewers get that staple scene of Lucy pulling a football away from Charlie Brown at the last minute, that’s all we see of Chuck’s nemesis in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. (Lucy's brother, Linus, however, is still a main character.)

5. CHARLIE BROWN AND LUCY STILL KEEP IN TOUCH.

Though they only had a single scene together, Todd Barbee, who voiced Charlie Brown, told Noblemania that he and Robin Kohn, who voiced Lucy in the Thanksgiving special, still keep in touch. “We actually went to high school together,” Barbee said. “We still live in Marin County, are Facebook friends, and occasionally see each other.”

6. CHARLIE BROWN HAD SOME TROUBLE WITH HIS SIGNATURE “AAARRRGG.”

One unique aspect of the Peanuts specials is that the bulk of the characters are voiced by real kids. In the case of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, 10-year-old newcomer Todd Barbee was tasked with giving a voice to Charlie Brown—and it wasn’t always easy.

“One time they wanted me to voice that ‘AAAAAAARRRRRGGGGG’ when Charlie Brown goes to kick the football and Lucy yanks it away,” Barbee recalled to Noblemania in 2014. “Try as I might, I just couldn’t generate [it as] long [as] they were looking for … so after something like 25 takes, we moved on. I was sweating the whole time. I think they eventually got an adult or a kid with an older voice to do that one take."

7. LINUS STILL GETS AN ENTHUSIASTIC RESPONSE.

While Barbee got a crash course in the downside of celebrity at a very early age—“seeing my name printed in TV Guide made everyone around me go bananas … everybody … just thought I was some big movie star or something,” he told Noblemania—Stephen Shea, who voiced Linus, still gets a pretty big reaction.

"I don't walk around saying 'I'm the voice of Linus,'" Shea told the Los Angeles Times in 2013. "But when people find out one way or another, they scream 'I love Linus. That is my favorite character!'"

8. THANKS TO LINUS, THE THANKSGIVING SPECIAL GOT A SPINOFF.

As is often the case in a Peanuts special, Linus gets to play the role of philosopher in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and remind his friends (and the viewers) about the history and true meaning of whatever holiday they’re celebrating. His speech about the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving eventually led to This is America, Charlie Brown: The Mayflower Voyagers, a kind of spinoff adapted from that Thanksgiving Day prayer, which sees the Peanuts gang becoming a part of history.

9. LEE MENDELSON HAD AN ISSUE WITH BIRD CANNIBALISM.

In writing for HuffPo for A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’s 40th anniversary, Mendelson admitted that one particular scene in the special led to “a rare, minor dispute during the creation of the show. Mr. Schulz insisted that Woodstock join Snoopy in carving and eating a turkey. For some reason I was bothered that Woodstock would eat a turkey. I voiced my concern, which was immediately overruled.”

10. MENDELSON EVENTUALLY GOT HIS WAY ... THOUGH NOT FOR LONG.

Though Mendelson lost his original argument against seeing Woodstock eating another bird, he was eventually able to right that wrong. “Years later, when CBS cut the show from its original 25 minutes to 22 minutes, I sneakily edited out the scene of Woodstock eating,” he wrote. “But when we moved to ABC in 2001, the network (happily) elected to restore all the holiday shows to the original 25 minutes, so I finally have given up.”

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13 Great Facts About Bad Lieutenant
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Bad Lieutenant can be accused of many things, but one charge you can't level against it is false advertising. Harvey Keitel's title character, whose name is never given, is indeed a bad, bad lieutenant: corrupt, sleazy, drug-addled, irresponsible, and lascivious, all while he's on the job. (Imagine what his weekends must be like!)

Abel Ferrara's nightmarish character study was controversial when it was released 25 years ago today, and rated NC-17 for its graphic nudity (including a famous glimpse at Lil’ Harvey), unsettling sexual violence, and frank depiction of drug use. The film packs a wallop, no doubt. Here's some behind-the-scenes info to help you cope with it.

1. THE PLACID WOMAN WHO HELPS THE LIEUTENANT FREEBASE HEROIN WROTE THE MOVIE.

That's Zoë Tamerlis Lund, who starred in Abel Ferrara's revenge-exploitation thriller Ms. 45 (1981) more than a decade earlier, when she was 17 years old. She and Ferrara are credited together for writing Bad Lieutenant, though she always insisted that wasn't the case. "I wrote this alone," she said. "Abel is a wonderful director, but he's not a screenwriter." She said elsewhere that she "wrote every word of that screenplay," though everyone agrees the finished movie included a lot of improvisation. Lund was a fascinating, tragic character herself—a musical prodigy who became an enthusiastic and unapologetic user of heroin before switching to cocaine in the mid-1990s. She died of heart failure in 1999 at age 37.

2. CHRISTOPHER WALKEN WAS SUPPOSED TO STAR IN IT.

Christopher Walken had starred in Ferrara's previous film, King of New York (1990), and was set to play the lead in Bad Lieutenant before pulling out at almost the last minute. Ferrara was shocked. "[Walken] says, 'You know, I don't think I'm right for it.' Which is, you know, a fine thing to say, unless it's three weeks from when you're supposed to start shooting," Ferrara said. "It definitely caught me by surprise. It put me in terminal shock, actually." Harvey Keitel replaced him (though not without difficulty; see below), and the film's editor, Anthony Redman, thought Keitel was a better choice anyway. "Chris is too elegant for the part," he said. "Harvey is not elegant." 

3. HARVEY KEITEL'S INITIAL REACTION TO THE SCRIPT WAS NOT PROMISING.

"When we gave [Keitel] the script the first time, he read about five pages and threw it in the garbage," Ferrara said. Keitel's recollection was a little more diplomatic. As he told Roger Ebert, "I read a certain amount of pages and I put it down. I said, 'There's no way I'm gonna make this movie.' And then I asked myself, 'How often am I a lead in a movie? Read it, maybe I can salvage something from it …' When I read the part about the nun, I understood why Abel wanted to make it."

4. IT WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY.


Lionsgate Home Entertainment

"It was always, in my mind, a comedy," Ferrara said. He cited the scene where the Lieutenant pulls the teenage girls over as a specific example of how Christopher Walken would have played it, and how Harvey Keitel changed it. "The lieutenant was going to end up dancing in the streets with the girls as the sun came up. They'd be wearing his gun belt and hat, and they'd have the radio on, you know what I mean? But oh my God, Harvey, he turned it into this whole other thing." Boy, did he. 

5. THAT SCENE WITH THE TEENAGE GIRLS HAD A REAL-LIFE ELEMENT THAT MADE IT EVEN CREEPIER.

One of the young women was Keitel's nanny. Ferrara: "I said, 'You sure you want to do this with your babysitter?' He says, 'Yeah, I want to try something.'"

6. MUCH OF IT WAS FILMED GUERRILLA-STYLE.

Like many indie-minded directors of low-budget films, Ferrara didn't bother with permits most of the time. "We weren't permitted on any of this stuff," editor Anthony Redman admitted. "We just walked on and started shooting." For the scene where a strung-out Lieutenant walks through a bumpin' nightclub, they sent Keitel through an actual, functioning club during peak operating hours.

7. A GREAT DEAL OF THE DIALOGUE AND ACTION WERE MADE UP ON THE FLY.

The script was only about 65 pages at first, which would have made for about a 65-minute movie. "It left a lot of room for improvisation," producer Randy Sabusawa said, "but the ideas were pretty distilled. They were there."

Script supervisor Karen Kelsall said supervising the script was a challenge. "Abel didn't stick to a script," she said. "Abel used a script as a way to get the money to make a movie, and then the script was kind of—we called it the daily news. It changed every day. It changed in the middle of scenes." Ferrara was unapologetic about the script's brevity. "The idea of wanting 90 pages ... is ridiculous."

8. AND THERE WERE EVEN MORE IDEAS THAT THEY DIDN'T USE.

Ferrara said a scene that epitomized the movie for him—even though he never got around to filming it—was one where the Lieutenant robs an electronics store, leaves, then gets a call about a robbery at the electronics store. He responds in an official capacity (they don't recognize him), takes a statement, walks out, and throws the statement in the garbage. "And that to me is the Bad Lieutenant, you know?" Ferrara said. 

9. THE BASEBALL PLAYOFF SERIES IS FICTIONAL.

The Mets have battled the Dodgers for the National League championship once, in 1988. (The Dodgers beat 'em and went on to win the World Series.) For the narrative Ferrara wanted—the Mets coming back from a 3-0 deficit to win the pennant—he had to make it up. He used footage from real Mets-Dodgers games (including Darryl Strawberry's three-run homer from a game in July 1991) and added fictional play-by-play. But the statistics were accurate: No team had ever been down by three in a best-of-seven series and then come back to win. (It's happened once since then, when the 2004 Red Sox did it.)

10. THEY HAD HELP FROM THE COP WHO SOLVED A SIMILAR CASE.

The disgusting crime at the center of the film (we won't dwell on it) was inspired by a real-life incident from 1981, which mayor Ed Koch called "the most heinous crime in the history of New York City." The street cop who solved it, Bo Dietl, advised Ferrara on the film and had an on-screen role as one of the detectives in our Lieutenant's circle of friends.

11. THEY DESECRATED THE CHURCH AS RESPECTFULLY AS THEY COULD.

Production designer Charles Lagola had his team cover the church’s altar and other surfaces with plastic wrap, then painted the graffiti and other defacements on the plastic.

12. IT WAS RATED NC-17 IN THEATERS, WITH AN R-RATED VERSION FOR HOME VIDEO.

Blockbuster and some of the other retail chains wouldn't carry NC-17 or unrated films, so sometimes studios would produce edited versions. (See also: Requiem for a Dream.) The tamer version of Bad Lieutenant was five minutes and 19 seconds shorter, with parts of the rape scene, the drug-injecting scene, and much of the car interrogation scene excised.

13. THE "SEQUEL" HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT, NOR DID FERRARA APPROVE OF IT.


First Look International

Movie buffs were baffled in 2009, when Werner Herzog directed Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, starring Nicolas Cage. It sounds like a sequel (or a remake), but in fact had no connection at all to the earlier film except that both were produced by Edward R. Pressman. Herzog said he'd never seen Ferrara's movie and wanted to change the title (Pressman wouldn't let him); Ferrara, outspoken as always, initially wished fiery death on everyone involved. Ferrara and Herzog finally met at the 2013 Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, where Herzog initiated a conversation about the whole affair and Ferrara expressed his frustration cordially. 

Additional sources:
DVD interviews with Abel Ferrara, Anthony Redman, Randy Sabusawa, and Karen Kelsall.

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