I bet a least once in your life you’ve dreamed of being of being a TV chef. Who could blame you: watching all that oozy cheese, that juicy meat and the steamiest, sexy vegetables and stuff you never dreamed possible come across your screen would lure the most uninterested of people.
Andrew Zimmern, whose stomach has hosted more animals than Noah’s Ark, has made a career vicariously eating on behalf of the unadventurous among us. On Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods, Zimmern seeks out food cultural traditions in the locales he visits, and if it means snacking on fresh cow placenta or a still-beating frog’s heart, he’ll swallow it down without a second thought.
His newest series, The Zimmern List, retains that same sense of culinary exploration but using the city’s cabbies to guide Zimmern even further off the grid.
Zimmern has stopped counting the number of species he’s consumed his decade on air, though it’s likely in the thousands. If there’s anyone in the world who could declare with authority which animal tastes the best or worst, it’s Zimmern. Here are the highlights.
Zimmern said that Kudu is probably the best meat he’s ever had. “Probably the best meat I’ve ever eaten is freshly killed kudu in South Africa. It’s a small, hooved animal, one of 20 in the African venison family – antelopes are in there. But kudu itself, the meat is pale pink, light, and sweet – a beautiful, delicate flavor. 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.”
Hailing from all over the place, from Michigan to Maryland to different species in Asia and South America, Zimmern isn’t a fan of it wherever it’s from. “It’s unredeemable mostly because of what it eats. Muskrat is one of those animals that has to be skinned and its fat removed. Like racoon, sometimes there are nodules in there that make the meat bitter. It’s a very dark meat and tastes like lightly spoiled beef. The texture isn’t redeemable to me either.”
Zimmern says: “I prefer good donkey (and horse meat) to good beef, from a flavor standpoint. Donkey is light and beefy, very lean. It’s got the texture of lamb with a very tight grain of protein. It has a shorter finish on the mouth than fattier animals like lamb or beef. It’s also very versatile – in Beijing, they have an entire donkey-restaurant city around the 5th Ring Road. We had dishes there with donkey skin, with the luxury cuts, its leg meat braised.”
Not going to lie: Zebu does not sound pleasant. “Zebu is a species of cattle we had in Madagascar. Even when it’s fresh, the meat tastes spoiled. The flavor of hide permeates that beast, especially when it’s cooked. I’d rather eat it raw. It’s completely gross.”
5. Giant scallop
“Eating raw giant scallops in Samoa was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Compared to scallops from, say, Hokkaido, this was 800 times better. It was so sugary sweet. These are scallops the size of basketballs, and it takes two people to lift up from the bottom of the ocean bed and put in a canoe. The tribal people were splashing calamansi and coconut juice onto raw sliced scallops, and I can’t begin to tell you how delicious it was.” Basketballs, wow.
Ah the humble seagull. Just because it eats our food doesn’t mean we should eat them. “We ate a lot of seagulls on the Faroe Islands. It’s one of those foods you might as well pass on. It tasted like bad game meat sprinkled with rotted fish juice. The only way I enjoyed it was when it was salted, smoked, boiled, then crisped. Though if you did that to your shoe, your shoe would be palatable, too.”
According to Zimmern: “The best seafood comes from places with fast-moving, cold waters. Off the Faroe Islands one time we were on a boat harvesting crayfish. The guy we were with only sells to a dozen restaurants, mostly ones in Scandinavia, and he developed this technology that overnights live crayfish in a box. So we’re on this boat. He picks up a live crayfish, peels the shell away from the tail, and shoves the meat into my mouth. I’ve never tasted something so sweet, so cucumber-y. It was twice as good as every raw oyster, raw fish, raw lobster, and raw botan ebi shrimp I’ve ever had. It was glorious.”
8. Giant water bug
“I rarely meet an insect that I’ve not liked – except giant water bugs from Asia. Because they spoil so quickly, they’re brined in a salty liquid to preserve them before they’re dried. When you bite into them, there’s a rotted, fetid, pus-y liquid that makes it unpleasant.” Bugs aren’t always gross to eat, but this sounds terrible.
Zimmern loves the stuff. “To this day, one of my favorite foods I’ll probably never get to taste again is porcupine skin in Botswana. These porcupines are covered with an inch-thick layer of fat that surrounds the body completely. There’s quills that have to move, so there’s some finely streaked muscles within the fat. When we hunted porcupines in Botswana, the first thing we ate was this 4-by-4-foot carpet of skin and fat, which we threw 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.”
Well if that didn’t make you hungry, you are some trooper. If it did, and you are super bummed you can’t get your hands on any of these treats, there’s always McDonald’s. You can never be upset with that.