Bizarre Foods’ Andrew Zimmern Previews the Season 8 Premiere â€œKazakhstan: Hunting with Eagles & Milking Maresâ€
I don’t know about you, but before I started watching I thought Bizarre Foods was all about finding the strangest, most exotic foods and sampling them — either here or abroad. But as I got to know more about James Beard award-winner Andrew Zimmern and the show, I realized it was more about experiencing the culture and its peopleÂ — sampling all these different types of cuisine was a (mostly delicious) bonus. I got a chance to talk to Andrew Zimmern last week during a press call. He gives us a little Kazak history, teases what we can expect in tonight’s episode and tells us why exploring other cultures is so important.
We know you visit Kazakhstan in the premiere episode. Can you talk about any of the foods you ate there that maybe you regretted instantly after trying?
Andrew Zimmern: â€œI had nothing but fantastic things in Kazakhstan. Fermented horse mare is milk is the most popular drink there. Itâ€™s called kumis and I love the stuff. I traveled a lot in Central Asia, the market overflowing with fruits and vegetables from some of the southern central Asian countries, apricots and pomegranates were in season from Azerbaijan, just unbelievable food.
I happen to love meat. Shashlik stands where everything is. The guy owns the farm animals, and slaughters them and ages them and cuts them and marinates them and grills them over a local hardware that burns like mesquite. Itâ€™s fantastic stuff. I really enjoyed the foods I had in Kazakhstan.
They have a national dish called Besbarma. Itâ€™s a homemade flat noodle, like a lasagna shape that they smother with sautÃ©ed horse meat and caramelized onion thatâ€™s one of my favorite dishes in the world. You just canâ€™t get it anywhere and I got to enjoy it twice in rural farm houses there. It was just extraordinary. And I got to eat a roasted rabbit meal down by the river in the foothills of Alpine-sized mountains, eating the rabbit that an eagle I hunted with had retrieved for me. Thatâ€™s a once in a lifetime food experience you just canâ€™t duplicate anywhere else.â€
You talked about some of the foods that you experienced in Kazakhstan. What would you say is the biggest influence in that culture? Itâ€™s Central Asia but itâ€™s had some Russian influence, a lot of Middle Eastern influence, and other influences as well as some western influences.
Andrew: â€œItâ€™s a fascinating question with that part of the world and that country in specific, especially in the modern Europe. More people have cell phones in Kazakhstan than have electricity. Almaty has a Ritz Carlton there, a stunning one thatâ€™s bought and paid for by some local oligarchs and I mean itâ€™s just stunning, modern hotel. And very few customers, so there are some humorous parts to all of this incredible growth.
But I think the biggest impact on that culture over the last 20 years has been the resurgence in national pride. You have to remember for 100 years or whatever, the Kazak national vibe was suppressed, right?
Then [in] â€™93, â€™94, the country gains its freedom so the biggest thing — kind of like the same thing we saw in Cambodia, where the original Khmer culture is the thing that everyone is trying to resurrect and make stable again because it had been depressed and made illegal for so long. Same thing with Kazak culture. It was illegal for a long time for them to practice their national sporting ritual of hunting with eagles to the point that there were only six people left in the country that knew how to do it. Now that number is back to 50 or 70 and itâ€™s enjoying a resurgence. It used to be that every village had eagle hunters in them. I mean, thatâ€™s a fascinating thing to think about.
Over the last five years, the country became wired, at least in its cities. So, here you have a country that just wanted essentially from a historical standpoint, moments ago won its independence that now all of a sudden can see pictures of the rest of the world instantly on their phones and laptops and television. Thatâ€™s very, very powerful and I think itâ€™s changing the nature of that country very quickly. Thereâ€™s 111 different ethnicities in the city of Almaty in Kazakhstan, fascinating place.
I know that you call yourself a culinary explorer, which is great. Why is it important to you to travel the world and experience all these different cultures and cuisines?
Andrew: â€œI think only a selfish, heartless, misdirected bastard would have all those things come to him and expect to draw any conclusions from them. It occurred to me a long time ago that American culture is very unique in that we inhale other cultures with our mouths and off the ends of forks, first and foremost. Itâ€™s the first way that we understand and come to appreciate and learn about other cultures is through their food in America. And I thought to myself, this is really interesting because we love Mexican food but the jury is out in America about really how we feel about Mexicans.
I believe very strongly it is the only way to learn about [other cultures] is not the diluted version that sometimes exists here. Itâ€™s necessary to go out and see these things in the cultures that birthed them and to be, and experience what itâ€™s like to walk in another personâ€™s footsteps.
Iâ€™m not down on America. Iâ€™m the most patriotic person I know, but we have a horrible habit in this country of making it convenient for us and I think when Iâ€™m out of my comfort zone and I think the same is true for all the people on this call, when weâ€™re traveling, we are put in a position to grow and stretch and do things we would not ordinarily do when weâ€™re at home.”
Edited for space and content.
Episode synopsis, from Travel Channel:
Andrew Zimmern heads to Kazakhstan, the heart of Central Asia.Â He hunts for rabbits with a golden eagle, suffers a blow while milking a horse and feasts on everything from sheep brains to fermented camel milk and smoked horse sausage.
Season 8 of Bizarre Foods premieres Monday, April 13th at 9/8c on Travel Channel.
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