In last night's Bizarre Foods season 4 opener, Andrew Zimmern traveled to Isan in northeastern Thailand to sample some rural Thai cuisine. And by "rural Thai cuisine," I mean "stuff that made me feel queasy for hours after the episode ended."
I've been watching Bizarre Foods for years, and I've never seen Andrew struggle with the foods as much as he did during this episode. Just how crazy was it? Let's take a look at the more unusual things Andrew did - and didn't - eat in a little segment we'll call...
[Warning: Some readers may find the following images and text upsetting or disturbing, so please proceed at your own risk.]
1. BAMBOO RAT
Andrew kicked things off at a highway jungle market, which is basically a place where people sell whatever random animals they caught that day. He refused to sample the contents of the clear plastic bag filled with bloody cow placenta (I can't imagine why), but instead opted for a truly terrifying looking bamboo rat wrapped in cellophane. A local chef covered it in salt, shoved a stick through it, and slapped it down on a grill without removing its guts.... which, oddly enough, reminded me of my last experience at Applebee's.
"I was excited to eat it, until it split open and the smell of its entrails flooded the marketplace," Andrew lamented, as he picked up the rodent and held it in front of his nose.
Now, I've seen Andrew struggle to get food down in the past, but I've never seen him look like death would be a better alternative than actually swallowing another bite of something. Unfortunately for Andrew, that's precisely the effect this bamboo rat had on him. "As I inhaled, all of the aroma from the entrails just went right into my mouth," he said, looking more revolted than Ina Garten after eating a cookie made with "bad vanilla."
2. DUNG BEETLES
Next, Andrew scoured some barnyards with a family of local farmers on an expedition to collect a bunch of dung beetles. These curious creatures eat nothing but heaping piles of fresh animal dung, so you can imagine how foul they must be. Not so, according to Andrew, who claimed they tasted "nutty." Riiiight. Sort of like a Snickers, only with less chocolate and much more NASTINESS.
Andrew had a much more difficult time eating the giant horned beetle, because it had body filled with "grassy, soft, pussy mucous that tasted like swamp mud." Mmm! Who's hungry!
(Note: If you're still reading this recap, congratulations. You must have a stomach lined with more metal than Robert Downey's Iron Man costume.)
3. RAW, WARM MEAT FROM A FRESHLY KILLED CALF
The next day, Andrew enjoyed a leisurely Sunday afternoon bar-b-q with a bunch of guys who just killed a young calf. As the guest of honor, Andrew was offered a raw piece of fat from the animal's chest, as well as a piece of meat that had been dipped into unspecified juices from the animal's hip socket. "Very chewy," Andrew said without remorse. "That was particularly foul."
Andrew was then offered something which he straight up refused to even try: the prized, partially digested contents of the cow's stomach. "I wish I could, but I can't drink your tap water and I can't eat the raw stomach. It has too many bacteria that my body's not used to." That's right! Andrew played the oft-neglected "bacteria" card. Nicely done, my friend. Nicely done.
Just when I thought things couldn't possibly get any worse for Andrew on this E. Coli inducing bar-b-q trip from hell, someone yanked out the animal's gall bladder, spilled the contents of its bile sac into a bowl of spices, and told him to dip raw pieces of liver into it and eat it. Whatchu talkin' bout, Willis!?
After only one hideous bite, Andrew and his translator instantly turned whiter than Paula Deen's front teeth. "The raw bile is the kind of bitter flavor that won't leave your mouth for a week. I can still feel the whole back of my throat closed," Andrew said. Wow. And I thought my mom's meatloaf was bad.
4. RICE FIELD RATS
Andrew continued his culinary tour of misery by hunting for rice field rats with a team of local farmers. After they're caught, the rats (which are bigger than A HUMAN HEAD, mind you) are either boiled and grilled, or chopped up (complete with tails, organs, skin, and entrails) for a stir fry.
Andrew said the grilled rat was "delicious," but wasn't too fond of the minced rat stir fry because it contained "little gristly bits of skin." Things went from bad to worse when he bit down on a piece of tail, which he likened to a "pencil dipped in liquid rubber." And in that moment, I vowed to never playfully bite the end of a pencil ever again.
5. FRIED SPARROWS & ROTTEN FISH
What do you order to eat at a carnival in Thailand? Why, fried sparrows and rancid fish meat, of course! For starters, the sparrows certainly didn't win any prizes in Andrew's book. He said they tasted "really unpleasant... like spoiled poultry and spent frying oil." Um, Andrew, you just ordered SPARROW at a CARNIVAL. Were you seriously expecting it to set your taste buds ablaze with delight?
Sadly, the fish that had been salted and fermented and left to rot at room temperature for 3 days didn't fare much better. Andrew called the taste "ferocious," and compared the smell to "Hulk Hogan's gym socks." I'm not sure how Andrew knows what those smell like, nor am I sure I want to know. Some mysteries are better left unsolved.
Andrew finished things up at the carnival with a simple seafood pizza. How bad could that be!
Well, as it turns out, pretty darn horrible. So horrible, in fact, that Andrew spit his bite out into a napkin and threw his hands up in disgust. "It's the fake cheese, fake seafood, and fake hot dog," he explained. "Too much gag reflex. Can't do it."
I understand the gag reflex issue, because I was struggling to keep mine in check while watching last night. Was it just me, Serious Eats, or was the Thailand episode really difficult to get through? I understand cuisines vary greatly across our great planet, and I'm as into shock value on television as anyone, but you've got to draw the culinary line in the sand somewhere - and I'm thinking "raw entrails stuffed with animal feces" just might be it.