If it looks good, eat it, right? Well, Andrew Zimmern, host of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods, who's been on a quest to try any – and we mean any – and every odd cuisine the world has to offer, has been living by this motto since his days growing up in New York City, and manages to keep it alive today in his current home town of Minneapolis. We had the pleasure to sit down with the king of culinary creepy to pick his brain on jewel-encrusted scimitar belt buckles, walnuts, and just what was that thing he ate in Chile.
Yelp: You recently premiered your new season of Bizarre Foods, what initially led you on your quest to try anything and everything?
AZ: My Dad was a big advertising maverick in the 50s and 60s and I grew up in that food revolution that was taking place in New York. We’d eat chicken feet in Chinatown or enjoy Cuban fare like black bean soup at Victor’s. He was also an International traveler with a lot of eating experience and took me with him. Wherever we went we ate what the locals ate.
Yelp: You grew up in New York, what do you miss about the city most?
AZ: The pocket of ethnic food enthusiasm. The hustle and bustle of the streets – the action. That saltwater smell. The fact you can get any food known to man in an extremely well made version at any hour of the day.
Yelp: If Yelpers wanted to have their own “Bizarre Foods” experience in New York, what neighborhoods should they hit up?
AZ: Of course the two Chinatowns in Flushing and Lower Manhattan. Definitely Astoria for their Greek, Egyptian and Lebanese offerings. Brighton Beach’s M&I – it’s a transcendent experience – and cap it off with a visit to Little Korea. Many of the restaurants actually operate on Korean time given there are so many Korean investment firms in the area - meaning you can get an entire dinner service at 3am.
Yelp: And in a similar vein, what are your tips on gateway bizarre foods? As in, perhaps you go for fried grasshoppers before baked tarantulas?
AZ: Foods that get people across that bizarre bridge usually come from the ocean: Oysters, Crabs. They resemble bugs. So
in essence, it’s jumping into the psychological shallow end of the
pool. It really has nothing to do with taste or texture – it’s a brain
Yelp: So, now that you call the Twin Cites home, what restaurants do you haunt?
AZ: One of my favorites is La Belle Vie for French food. Tea House for Schezwan. Porter and Frye, Restaurant Alma and Heidi’s are all up-and-coming, and for the best pizza in the Midwest hand’s down, Punch.
Yelp: Are there any food-driven trends you’re currently seeing in Minneapolis?
AZ: There are two big things happening at the same time: small neighborhood, chef-driven restaurants are appearing, like Café Maude, as well as Heidi’s and Alma. Food is being taken seriously, but not necessarily just downtown. Rather, restaurants are opening up where the customers are. Second, we’re seeing ethnic food becoming more honest and authentic. Previously, you saw immigrants cooking for subsequent waves of immigrants. Minneapolis is now seeing a rebirth, and with that some of the best Vietnamese, Hmong and Ethiopian food can be found – especially on University Avenue.
Yelp: Is there anything you wouldn’t try - something mundane like a water dog or bananas - not giant beetles.
AZ: Walnuts – I can’t stand the flavor of a raw walnut.
Yelp: OK, so when you’re not eating fish heads, where are the places you go when you’re really hungry?
AZ: The best New York burgers are at JG Melon on 74th & 3rd. For a good steak, Peter Luger. Got to go to Carnegie Deli for a pastrami and brisket. Any Papaya King. Nobu or Jewel Bako for Japanese. And every time we come we go to Da Silvano, my wife’s favorite.
Yelp: What’s the last really bizarre thing you bought whether it was outrageous, expensive or just plain weird and where did you get it?
AZ: Orange prison grab from Korea. They look like thick cotton canvas pajamas. They’re actually worn in very specific set of Korean saunas. That and I just bought a jewel encrusted rock star belt buckle with scimitar swords. It’s an everyday type belt.
Yelp: And of course, inquiring Yelpers want to know, what is the most bizarre thing you have ever put in your mouth?
AZ: Definitely Piure - iodine-tasting puffy creatures found in Chile.
Be sure to catch Andrew on Bizzare Foods every Tuesday night at 10pm on The Travel Channel!