Andrew Zimmern, the Travel Channel host, producer and writer, certainly needs no introduction to those familiar with "Bizarre Foods," "Bizarre World" and "Bizarre Foods America." Yet his impressive, exhaustive resume is worth noting: two James Beard Awards, three television programs, a handful of books, a traveling food truck and a post as a contributing editor to FOOD & WINE. In Andrew Harper fashion, the bold, charismatic eater and traveler has visited 121 countries and is currently planning even more journeys for his next season of "Bizarre Foods."
An Andrew Harper staff member had the pleasure of speaking with Zimmern at the Austin FOOD & WINE Festival in April about what’s next. Zimmern’s contagious enthusiasm and passion for his craft permeate this discussion about iPhone apps, meals worth traveling for, porcupine bacon and more.
A Conversation With Andrew Zimmern
ANDREW ZIMMERN: My little folding meat knife. It’s always in my pocket. It was made for me in Sardinia. The handle is a goat horn.
AHS: It’s beautiful.
AZ: (Laughs) It’s from a goat that I tracked down.
AHS: Did you pick out the goat yourself? Or … ?
AZ: It was a wild goat in the hills. It was actually part of the show ... it’s a long story. So, I carry it around. It’s a great blade. It’s like my all-purpose [item] — that and my iPhone.
AHS: Well, on an iPhone note, do you have a favorite travel app or travel gadget?
AZ: Oh, my God. Well, my phone is my favorite travel gadget because it has my translator. It has my SAS Survival Guide. I’ve got an app on there that translates written word and language. I can speak into it and select any language and it’ll spit it back out the other side. For traffic, I have Waze. I have food apps where chefs log on and select their favorite places. So if there’s a particular chef that I’m fond of, I’ll go into his home city and see where he recommends eating so that I’m sourcing expertise. As opposed to sourcing Yelp bullshit. And, well, I’m sort of an app junkie. I have a weather radar app so I can actually see what the weather is going to be like and I don’t have to depend on, you know, ridiculous local meteorologists who, for some reason, don’t really know what they’re doing. (Laughs) Look, I’m cynical. As you can tell, I like to have the info myself.
Well, the greatest food city in the world is New York City, just in terms of depth and breadth, variety, size, infrastructure.
AHS: You've certainly gathered a lot of information for yourself in the field. If you had to narrow it down, what is your favorite food city?
AZ: Well, the greatest food city in the world is New York City, just in terms of depth and breadth, variety, size, infrastructure. I think there are some hidden gems. People don’t just go eat in Queens, New York. They don’t go over the bridge. If Queens was on its own as a city, and it existed somewhere else, I would say that it's one of the five greatest food cities in the world. There are over 115 different ethnic groups in populations greater than 10,000 making [the food]. The new waves of immigration are keeping the food honest and authentic, which doesn’t always make it good but, in the case of Queens, they’re cooking for their families and their neighbors, which does make it good. Queens and New York City in general are certainly tops. Where else do I love? I love eating in San Francisco, Chiang Dao, China, Tokyo, Hanoi. I happen to be a big fan of Filipino food. I think that Manila is underrated in terms of food in the Philippines.
AHS: Is there one meal in particular that you would travel across the globe to have again?
AZ: Yes. In Bostwana, living with the Ju/Wasi, the tribal hill people called the "Bush People of the Kalahari" that live in the area outside the Okavango Delta [in] the Aha Hills, about two hours from Maun by little bush plane — they were the tribe that was featured in “The Gods Must Be Crazy." We lived with them for my whole Botswana episode [of "Bizarre World"]. We hunted a giant African porcupine. It was like the size of a golden retriever — about 70 pounds. What the animal is prized for is, after they take the quills away, the entire carpet of fat. The animal is basically covered in pork belly because it has to move its quills, and the fat keeps the animal warm on the cold desert nights. The musculature is very finely striated; it looks like Kobe beef. So, [the Ju/Wasi] bury this fat cap in charcoal and let it scorch. Before it all melts away, they pull it out and dust it off and cut it into squares and everyone eats some. I think it’s my favorite food on the planet, and I’ve only eaten it once and it kills me that I’ve only been able to eat that food one time. Who doesn’t like crispy fat? It’s like porcupine bacon.
We hunted a giant African porcupine. It was like the size of a golden retriever — about 70 pounds.
AHS: Who knew porcupines had bacon?
AZ: Oh, they do.
AHS: So, what is the next place you’re going? What’s the next place you’re excited to see?
AZ: Oh, my gosh. I don’t know. We’re in hiatus right now, planning the next season. I know that this is going to include everything from Poland and Ireland to probably more China. I’m hopefully going to get to [the Czech Republic]. I want to go to Uruguay and cross that whole continent off my list. I need to get to Western Africa. I’ve been to 121 countries but I’ve only shot TV in 40 of them. And then there are the places that I’ve never been that I’m just dying to go. The traveler’s dilemma is, you know, I’ve gone to China eight times, minimum of two weeks at a clip, and I’ve still barely scratched the surface there. I love all things Chinese. It’s the same feeling I have for Japan or Vietnam or Korea, where I’ve been a handful of times each, but I could spend forever wandering around there.
AHS: Never enough time?
AZ: Absolutely never enough time.