What The Cameras Never Showed You On Bizarre Foods

There's a good chance that if someone on your small screen is giving you the low-down on salted tuna sperm and fresh cow placenta, it's none other than the incomparably adventurous culinary guru Andrew Zimmern. As the TV star told Starry Mag in 2015, he wanted to showcase interesting cuisines from around the world and pitched the idea to networks for about four years before landing a deal with the Travel Channel. He went on to stand at the helm of long-running series "Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern" plus its spinoffs, and he continues to develop food-related content to entertain the masses. Whether he's sampling chunks of pig brains dunked in chili oil in China or chowing down on fire-roasted camel ribs in Morocco, you can count on Zimmern to give you a fascinating glimpse into different food cultures that span the globe.

Considering the premise of the show is based on an element of shock value, it really makes you wonder about some of the stuff we never saw that went on behind the scenes. We decided to do a little digging and unearthed some intriguing gems. Here's what the cameras never showed you on "Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern."

Andrew Zimmern had a food-related health scare

The last thing anyone wants is to find themselves overseas with a rare virus infecting their mouth, but that's exactly the situation Andrew Zimmern found himself in while abroad. While chatting with a dentist for a feature that was published in HuffPost in 2012, the star of "Bizarre Foods" mentioned that he ended up getting burning mouth syndrome. According to a medically reviewed article on WebMD, the symptoms of burning mouth syndrome include a burning sensation anywhere inside the mouth or the throat, as well as numbness and issues with swallowing.  

Zimmern went on to say in the interview that he contracted the virus from contaminated cumin while on one of his trips. Fortunately for Zimmern, the virus hasn't given him too much trouble since the diagnosis and he has a steroid mouthwash to help clear it up whenever it resurfaces. As he shared years later in a Reddit AMA, "Occasionally once a year I have a flare-up ... I pass it off as a simple casualty of war."

The host drew the line at rotten intestines

During his travels, Andrew Zimmern often finds himself staying with locals. And while that's certainly an enriching experience that he's expressed gratitude for, it can also carry some element of risk, especially when the dishes that hosts are lovingly preparing for him look like they could be potentially dangerous. In a Reddit AMA, the "Bizarre Foods" host shared that while there have been times that he rolled the dice and dug in just for the sake of civility, there have been instances where he felt he had to reject a dish because he believed it would lead to "a trip to the hospital."

One of those occasions was when he was offered rotten chicken intestines that were riddled with "discolorations." Zimmern wrote that he was sure the discoloration was a sign that the chicken was unwell, which could lead to food poisoning. As he said in The Daily Meal, "I felt they were maybe from some sick animals and I chose not to eat it." Even though he may have risked insulting his host, it sounds like this might've been a case where being cautious was the right call. 

The porcupine that stuck with Andrew Zimmern

Having the privilege to travel the world certainly has its perks and it just so happens that being gifted some unique souvenirs from locals is one of them. As "Bizarre Foods" star Andrew Zimmern told Forbes, one of his favorite trips abroad was when he stayed with the Ju/'hoansi tribe. The TV host was with the Ju/'hoansi in Botswana for a full week. "We hunted giant African porcupines and ate them — still one of my favorite foods, and one that I doubt I'll ever get a chance to eat again," he recalled. Chatting with Mashed in 2021, he stated that the porcupine dish was the best thing he's ever eaten.

After the hunt, members of the tribe extracted the porcupine's colossal quills and used them to make Zimmern a few gifts, including a bow and arrow. The tribe even gave him some of the extra quills from the porcupines, which can grow up to one foot long, that he now keeps in his office. Zimmern shared with Forbes that he learned so much from his experience with the tribe, before adding, "and there's not a day that goes by that I'm not reminded of them." 

Why Andrew Zimmern isn't discouraged by a long line

When trying to decide which street food vendor to visit, it's never a bad idea to get a few tips from a well-seasoned traveler like Andrew Zimmern. According to a 2019 Forbes interview, the "Bizarre Foods" host has been to over 150 countries, and he's tried countless dishes around the globe. Considering that Zimmern has stood in line for everything from Panamanian iguana eggs to chicken foot soup, it's pretty clear that he has some useful opinions about how to choose where you should eat.

When most people see a long line, they tend to avoid it out of impatience and end up eating somewhere else with less of a wait. However, as Zimmern told GQ in 2017, this approach is all wrong. He uses the hot dog carts of New York City to illustrate his point: the deserted hot dog carts are usually neglected for a reason, and the more lively ones probably have something special going on, like fantastic hot sauces or maybe some "homemade eggplant pickles." If you ignore the longer lines, you're probably missing out on something exceptional, so it's better to have some patience and wait in line to see what all the buzz is about.

How the host feels about what he's eaten on the show

When your career is centered on consuming things like jellied moose nose and smoked horse sausage encased in rectum skin, you're bound to raise a few eyebrows. In a 2011 Sierra Club interview, Andrew Zimmern talked about how he often ends up sticking up for some of the more adventurous dishes that he's given a try on "Bizarre Foods." 

When people question how Zimmern could possibly chow down on boiled duck embryo and other unique delicacies, he tries to help them see their hypocrisy, using a hot dog as an example, pointing out that its ingredients could be equally scrutinized. The point Zimmern tries to make in those situations is that people need to break free from their narrow culinary perspectives and acknowledge that they don't fully understand what's in some of the foods in their own cultures that they enjoy eating themselves. While Zimmern later says in the interview that he does enjoy a good hot dog, he also suggests it's important to try and consume food that isn't overly processed or unnatural.

Andrew Zimmern rarely unplugs

When you imagine a seasoned veteran of world travel like Andrew Zimmern in the rainforest, you probably envision him roughing it and doing without some of the modern technological creature comforts that define our era. As someone who's immersed himself in some of the most far flung corners of the planet and roamed around with nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes like Ju/'hoansi, it's hard to believe that Zimmern actually prefers to stay plugged in at all times. Yet when Forbes asked about what his essentials are, the "Bizarre Foods" host confessed that he insists on staying online while he travels so that he can keep in touch with the news and watch programs he enjoys like Rachel Maddow. 

At the same time, Zimmern also believes in the importance of finding time to take a break from the web occasionally, saying that he typically saves those stretches of technological detachment for real vacations when he disconnects for a few consecutive days.

As much as he likes staying connected and utilizing certain contemporary conveniences, there's one major culinary resource that he probably doesn't have bookmarked. "I think Yelp is neither good nor bad for the food industry," he told Insider in 2017. "I find it useless."

The host wishes he could rename the show

What's in a name? As Andrew Zimmern told Food GPS, when he started "Bizarre Foods," he "had a premeditated purpose to using the term bizarre." The TV personality felt like part of his mission was to help cast the word "bizarre" in a more positive light. "I wanted to get it back to the classic Webster definition of unique and interesting," he said. 

Zimmern echoed this sentiment in a 2018 chat with Thrillist. He stated that if he could go back in time and rename the show, he would do it in a heartbeat, seemingly because the word "bizarre" implies a judgmental attitude toward foods outside of one's own culture. Zimmern discusses how the language he used over the course of the show evolved over time, using his retirement of the term "hole-in-the-wall" as an example of dated descriptive language that now feels insensitive and inappropriate. 

What would Zimmern rename the show if given the chance? He doesn't say in the interview, but he does admit that he had some pretty "bad" ideas like "The Wandering Spoon" before he settled on "Bizarre Foods."

Andrew Zimmern stays busy with nonprofits

As someone who has struggled with substance use and housing insecurity, Andrew Zimmern is in tune with human suffering and the need for collective action to help people out of hardship. As a result, today the "Bizarre Foods" host has long-term partnerships with several nonprofits and philanthropic efforts.

According to his website, Zimmern is involved with the Medical Discovery Team on Addiction, which conducts addiction research to help create new recovery and treatment options. He also sits on the Board of Directors at Services for the UnderServed, which aims to support New Yorkers experiencing homelessness, economic adversities, addiction, and other critical issues. Zimmern even developed a children's adventure book whose distribution supports No Kid Hungry, which is a charity that's served hundreds of millions of meals to children. He was also named the Voice for Nutrition for the International Rescue Committee, which strives to address the nutritional needs of resettled refugees in the United States and assist with global malnutrition. Zimmern partners with and supports other programs even beyond these, proving that not only does he have an adventurous palate, but he also has a good heart that's committed to help make the world a better place.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).