Culture shocked

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

People are always surprised to hear that Andrew Zimmern has never been laid-up after eating cultural delicacies like raw camel in Ethiopia or drinking a mix of cow urine and herbs in Goa.

It's something the Bizarre Foods host has never worried about.

"It's not like we're eating garbage," he said of his Travel Channel adventures. "It's a cultural thing."

And at this weekend's AAA Great Vacations Travel Expo, a three-day event offering exhibits and entertainment that'll make you want to get away, Zimmern will advocate for the authentic experience of tasting native delicacies while traveling.

"I talk about the difference between traveling and being a tourist," he said during a phone interview last week, referencing the old adage, "When in Rome, do what the Romans do."

To him, it's all about being immersed in the culture. And that includes sitting down to a home-cooked meal - and sometimes a not-so-cooked meal.

It's that mentality that pushes preconceptions from Zimmern's mind, allowing him to enjoy food that might horrify American viewers.

"People see me eat a 10-day-old chick [and feel sick]," Zimmern said. "If somebody just tried one, you couldn't stop eating them."

It also helps that Zimmern, an executive chef in St. Paul, Minnesota, who's hosted a radio talk show there and contributed local TV segments about food, has had a curiosity about different cultures since growing up.

He came up with the idea for Bizarre Foods as a combination of his passions, and was thrilled when the Travel Channel was interested. "I love the idea of diving into a culture face-first," Zimmern said.

From his travels, he especially recommends Chile as an often-overlooked destination that mirrors California in many ways, pointing to their great wine and cheese.

According to Zimmern, coming up on his Travel Channel to-do list is a much-anticipated trip to New Guinea to try cassowary, the world's third-largest flightless bird. Fugu, a Japanese pufferfish dish that's poisonous if not prepared correctly, is another bizarre menu item he'd like to try.

With each trip he makes, there are "dozens and dozens" of species he comes across that he doesn't have time to try, Zimmern said.

He hasn't been to Columbus before, but he has heard of Cincinnati's Skyline Chili - which he thought was based in Toledo. Thinking ahead to his day-long trip, Zimmern said, "What I find there, I'll eat there."

He'll appear at noon and 3 p.m. Sunday on the Expo Travel Stage.

What: AAA Great Vacations Travel Expo

When: Friday-Sunday, Jan. 16-18

Where: Veterans Memorial, Downtown