"There's no such thing as 'scary food,'" Andrew Zimmern insists. "Putrefying shark is only off-putting because you haven't experienced it." As host of the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods, Zimmern has experiences most Americans never willcooking porcupine belly over an open fire with bushmen in Botswana, for instance. "I love how an ingredient no one wants can become heavenly in the right hands," he says.
While Zimmern actually prefers porcupine to walnuts (they leave a horrible taste in his mouth), his home cooking is fairly simple: "I'm a dad and husband, and I live in the Midwest. I make things like roast chicken." The former chef bridges the gap between bizarre and appealing with smart ingredient substitutions. For the taqueria staple chuchules, for instance, he skips the pig intestines in favor of pork confit. And instead of making yakitori with pig trachea, a dish he tried in Tokyo, he opts for chicken thigh. Not that he's given up on convincing the world to try innards. "You start to enjoy even the heinous stuff once you taste it with an open mind. I'm sure other cultures think a hot dog is pretty scary."
Scary Way: "Right in Tijuana's red-light district sits Kentucky Fried Buches, where cooks fry chicken necks, skin on, to fill soft corn tortillas. I can't stop eating them."
Andrew Zimmern's Real Way: "At home, I fry skin-on chicken thighs until they're supercrisp, then eat them with avocado-tomatillo salsa, my family's favorite."
Scary Way: "Deep in the Louisiana bayou, Cajuns still live off the landtrapping, shrimping, crabbing and hunting. Cooks make gumbo with nutria, a giant, water-dwelling rodent. It's a dish of need, not want."
Andrew Zimmern's Real Way: "I learned my gumbo techniques from a trapper's wife, but I use oysters and crab; no rodent required."
Scary Way: "On the Greek island of Kalymnos, fishermen make a stew with shellfish, whole fish, lemon, onion and water. They eat it straight from the pot with their handsno bowls. It tastes of sweat and iodine, but it is easily one of the best soups I've ever had."
Scary Way: "Korean-style horumon stalls are big in Tokyo. These tiny restaurants grill dozens of skewers with animal parts like udders, cockscomb, trachea, you name it."
Andrew Zimmern's Real Way: "Even with conventional meat, grilling techniques like basting with fresh ginger juice are genius. If you're not adventurous, try it on chicken thighs."
Scary Way: "In Samoa, insanely good tuna is cheap and plentiful; a 20-pound fish might go for $5. Samoans season raw tuna with coconut milk, lime and fermented sea cucumber intestine, called se'e."
Andrew Zimmern's Real Way: "At home I skip the se'e in favor of fish sauce to give the dish a salty balance."
Scary Way (Photo): "At taquerias all over Mexico and Latin America, I devour bundles of braised and griddled small intestines."
Andrew Zimmern's Real Way: "To replicate the fattiness and crisp elegance, I confit pork shoulder with salt, sugar, garlic and herbs, then grill the meat and serve with warm tortillas and smoky pineapple salsa."
Andrew Zimmern: Bizarre Food Finds
These Madagascan bugs look like Dr. Seuss creatures and taste like shrimp.
Moose Nose Jelly
A distinctive Alaskan headcheese made with moose cartilage and fat.
Rotten Root Dough
Ethiopians make dough from a dead tree root that has rotted for 40 days.