Book Review: Andrew Zimmern's Field Guide To Exceptionally Weird, Wild & Wonderful Foods

This is a guest post by TC mom Alex Lodner.
It may be rude to burp at the dinner table at your house, but in Japan it is considered a gesture of respect and gratitude. Similarly, while you may not find brains on the menu at most Twin Cities restaurants, in eighteenth-century Europe, it was an honor to be offered a nice plate of steaming brains for dinner.
Yuck? Ewww? Eeeeck? Maybe, but respecting other cultures, and the foods they prepare and offer their guests, is the key message in Andrew Zimmern’s Field Guide To Exceptionally Weird, Wild, & Wonderful Foods.
Zimmern, chef, author, TV personality, Minnesotan, TC Jewfolk contributor, and all around nice Jewish boy, embraces the world’s cuisine in his popular shows Bizarre Foods and Bizarre Foods America. In his book, Zimmern introduces a selection of strange-but-true delicacies in a quirky, enticing guide filled with quips and factoids that both adults and kids will enjoy.
It isn’t all blood and guts (although there is an awful lot of both). Zimmern talks with great passion about the Juicy Lucy, the beloved mouth-scalding burger first created in Minneapolis. He includes instructions to creating your own Lucy at home, complete with an at-your-own risk warning about the lava like flow of cheese that oozes out of the center of the burger.
While Zimmern touches on every day foods like hot dogs, garlic, honey, Spam and pierogies, he can’t help but veer into the extreme when possible. In the chapter on coffee (seemed innocuous enough) we learn about kopi luwak, coffee beans worth their weight in gold. What makes these Indonesian beans so special? They are first digested by the palm civet, a cat-like creature whose droppings are then picked apart by farmers who retrieve the beans, wash and roast them. This process creates what by all accounts in a delicious brew that will set you back about $10 per dixie cup sized serving.  Mmmm, I’ll stick to my usual Peace Coffee beans, thanks.
Reviews by the likes of Dana Cowin (Food and Wine) and Anthony Bourdain tout the book as a “mesmerizing” introduction of exotic foods to children. Well, that depends on your kid. Mine is averse to lettuce, so I am pretty sure that maggot cheese would not entice her. But she is only five, and older children may find the gross factor alluring and fun. The writing is witty and colloquial, much like Zimmern himself, which makes some of the information (did you know that in Thailand, they like their rats skinned, gutted, and grilled? It’s true, and Zimmern has the photos to prove it) easier to, well, swallow.
Originally, I had planned on attempting a couple of the recipes offered in the book with my daughter, but other than Emeril Lagasse’s Mardi Gras King Cake, there wasn’t much she was interested in. We skipped the chapter on Cuy, also known as guinea pig (or Norm, as he’s called at our house).
Other than the occasional sushi roll, I am not the most adventurous of eaters, but I have to admit this book was a joy to read. After reading all about bat meat, puffer fish, and sour lung soup, I have a new found respect for foods around the world, and the people who value these dishes. After all, many Minnesotans love Lutefisk and Spam, (for those folks, the Spamsota Hot Dish recipe is on page 161) so who are we to judge?
Alex Lodner is a freelance writer based in St. Paul. Alex has written for Minnesota Monthly, Taste, The Northern Traveler and more. Born and raised in Israel, Alex is now raising her daughter in a mixed faith marriage. Cooking and baking together brings both Mom and daughter closer to their beloved heritage.
*The FTC made me do it: Disclosure of Material Connection: TC Jewfolk received a free copy of ”Andrew Zimmern’s Field Guide” in the hope that we would mention it on TC Jewfolk. But getting the book for free doesn’t mean that we were obligated to give a positive review. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”