It takes more than a unique dish to pique Andrew Zimmern's interest. And for a fourth season, the "Bizarre Foods America" host finds himself roaming between California and New York (with a detour to our northern neighbor). Why, having traveled all over the world eating everything from "bleeding rocks" in Chile to eggplant custard in Greece, is he keeping it local?
"To me, it’s all about great stories, great stories that we were overlooking," he explains. "The beauty of America is that it’s a country of immigrants. I think there are more stories here from the fringe and foods from other cultures than anywhere else in the world.
"I don't know whether I eat to travel or travel to eat, but to me they're not two strands of spaghetti in a dish; they are the same noodle."
Now that we're all hungry, where does Zimmern recommend you call ahead before packing your bags this summer? Here are some of the cities doing interesting things with food right now:
Providence, R.I.: "There are chefs who are absolutely, doggedly committed to the ingredients coming out of the farms and the oceans. It’s a brilliant city to be eating through right now."
One to try: Farmstead makes an award-winning burger — with polenta fries!
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Houston, Texas: "There is an internationalist, a global food influence going on."
One to try: Korean goat dumplings at Underbelly.
Toronto, Ontario: "I always love the place I just came from. Right now I am overwhelmed by a place called King’s Noodle, an incredible Chinese restaurant."
One to try: There's no website; get there and ask for anything made with pork.
Portland, Ore.: "I do think the DIY food movement in Portland is absolutely extraordinary."
One to try: foie gras-infused chocolate at Xocolatl de David.
San Francisco: "I make sure to go very early because I don’t want to miss the Odds and Ends board" at Incanto. "They may be doing a roasted salmon head dish, or an Asian-inspired sweet and sour soup. And there are only six portions that night. It’s hyperseasonal, but also hyperpersonal. Those are the experiences I really treasure."
How to choose a bizarre food
Getting in is only the beginning. Wherever you find yourself at a table in the world, what's the golden rule of choosing the right thing?
"If I go to a sushi bar, I don’t order the yakitori [grilled chicken]. I go to eat the food that’s expert in those places," Zimmern says.
Look for restaurants that change their menus with the season, with ingredients harvested at their peak freshness — like salmon if they're running. Or, you can always put your decision in the hands of the people who know the menu best.
"I like to talk to the people in the restaurants. 'What’s the restaurant loving to cook right now?'"
Catch “Bizarre Foods America” on the Travel Channel, Mondays at 9 p.m. For more recipes, blogs and the latest foodie places, check out Andrew Zimmern's website.