During this, the season of mummy hot dogs, gummy worm punch, and spider web cupcakes (that’s right, I’ve got those on deck for next week), there might not be a better armchair companion–for kids anyhow–than my friend Andrew Zimmern’s forthcoming book, Field Guide to Exceptionally Weird, Wild, & Wonderful Foods.
As host of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern and Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods America on the Travel Channel, Andrew’s passion (and diet) is devoted to exploring how different foods are important in cultures around the globe.
His eats on the road are decidedly adult, so why did he need to write a kids book? “Young people need new stories about food written with their sensibilities in mind,” he said. “They need their imagainations challenged and they want to read about food in a way that is germane to how they absorb info and devour media. I want children of all ages to re-evaluate their food lives and reimagine what food can be, what its possibilities are, and most importantly to not practice contempt prior to investigation.”
As a result, he’s sharing outrageous experiences and little known facts (about circus peanuts, stewed brains, wildebeest, and more) guaranteed to make broccoli seem pedestrian.
Here, some of his favorite food facts:
1. Bird’s nest soup is made from the nests of swiftlets, but that isn’t the bizarre part. Swiftlets build their nests from seaweed, twigs, moss, hair and feathers, all cemented together using their saliva. That’s right, that $100 bowl of soup is made of bird spit.
2. Fried tarantulas are a popular treat in Cambodia. They taste like soft-shell crab because they are both arthropods.
3. Fugu (puffer fish) is an incredibly poisonous delicacy. In order to get a license to serve fugu one must go through a two-to-three-year apprenticeship to learn how to properly dice the fish. Still, 20 diners die every year eating fugu.
4. Circus peanuts don’t taste like peanuts at all. They are banana flavored.
5. JELL-O and marshmallows might not sound too bizarre, but they contain the same gelatin found in headcheese. Gelatin is made from the collagen in cow and pig bones, hooves. and connective tissues.
6. Taste buds can be inhibited by cold temperatures. If you have to eat a food you know you don’t like, put an ice cube on your tongue first. It will dull the flavor.
7. Drinking blood can warm you up on a cold day. If you drink a glass of blood, your body temperature will rise a few degrees! Cow’s blood is the breakfast of champions for the Tanzanian Masai tribe, who drink it to restore the body’s vitamins after giving birth or after a long day of hunting.
8. The head of a crayfish contains an organ called the hepatopancreas, the animal’s main energy storage spot. You’d be crazy to skip this rich yellow substance, called “the fat” by locals. As per Louisiana custom, I’d suggest you rip off the crayfish head and suck the fat.
9. Haggis is a traditional Scottish meal created to utilize an animal’s innards and blood immediately (remember, this is before refrigerators). They took the heart, lungs, liver, blood and other offal to the stone grinder, mixed it with grain or oats and stuffed it back inside a natural casing (such as a bloated sheep’s stomach).
10. Kopi Luwak is one of the rarest and most expensive beverages in the world (a pound of beans can be upwards of $500). So what makes this coffee so special? It comes from coffee beans that have been passed through and pooped out of the common palm civet’s digestive tract.
Andrew Zimmern’s Field Guide to Exceptionally Weird, Wild, & Wonderful Foods comes out October 30, 2012. Buy it here.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?