On Monday, Feb. 11, Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods America,” with host and food adventurer Andrew Zimmern, returns with new episodes, starting in the nation’s capital.
But that’s only the beginning.
“Whether it’s fishing for snakehead, an invasive species, in Washington, D.C.,” Zimmern tells Zap2it, “or taking gyrfalcons out to the hillsides of rural Colorado to go hunting for pheasant, as our weapon of choice, we really have gotten to, this season, show people a wide variety of things about America that I’m not sure everybody realizes exists but is right under their noses and in their backyards.”
Zimmern is also interested in sampling what happens when the world’s cultures and cuisines collide in America’s home and restaurant kitchens.
“We do everything,” he says, “from experimenting with Dave Beran and his team at Next in Chicago on how they develop menus for that restaurant, to heading out into the hills of the Ozarks, shooting bear, squirrel and digging for suckerfish.
“The great thing about an American season is not only do we get to see traditional food pathways and explore them here, as they’ve been done in our country for 300, 400, 500 years but are disappearing, to the new foods and the new American culture touchpoints that immigrants to our country are keeping alive.
“Oftentimes, the blending of the two can be staggering. I was in central Arkansas a few months ago, and not many people know that Bentonville, Ark., is home to one of the Vietnamese populations in the country, but it is.”
Zimmern went out with a family that had fished for generations in Vietnam and observed locals catching catfish, which also forms part of Vietnamese cuisine. They rigged up a system that allowed them to catch multiple catfish at one time.
“Then,” says Zimmern, “we get to go to their house and cook up traditional Vietnamese food using the all-American catfish. Sometimes it’s that kind of elasticity, that hybridization of culture, that is really a sweet spot for us to explore.”
Sometimes, though, distinctive flavors are buried under the standardized menus of chain restaurants and fast-food outlets.
“In our biggest population center,” says Zimmern, “the commodification and the industrialization of America have put a lot of our culture under a big mound of earth. Sometimes you have to work harder to scratch up to the surface.”
Despite his strange diet, Zimmern says he’s as healthy as he’s ever been and offers this unusual tip: “Everyone has a grandmother story about drinking two ounces of pickle juice every morning in a cracked coffee cup was the secret to why Granny was 105 before she passed away, and I believe that.
“But only if it’s naturally occurring fermentation, none of that stuff in the store-bought jars. But yes, get some pickles at Guss’ Pickles on Orchard Street in New York and drink the juice every day. You’ll be in great shape.”