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Food & Dining // Table Talk
Jo McGarry

‘Bizarre Foods’ Comes To Hawaii

Andrew Zimmern works up a sweat during the challenging task of poi pounding | Photo from Travel Channel

Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods America heads to Hawaii this week, sending popular host and lifetime foodie Andrew Zimmern in search of some of the best “hidden” foods in the Islands. It’s all too easy to dismiss Zimmern as the man who eats weird things – like cow placenta and roasted porcupine – on TV. In truth, he is passionate about discovering diverse food cultures and the people behind them. A two-time James Beard Award winner and author, Zimmern comes to Hawaii with enthusiasm and leaves with a deep appreciation of our culinary culture. Bizarre Foods America/Hawaii highlights some fascinating parts of life in Hawaii – including places many of us may never see in person.

“We went to several different islands in Hawaii,” Zimmern says during an interview last week. “It’s a fantastic show. We’re trying to trace stories that most people don’t get to, and the highlight for me was the trip to Milolii.”

The remote fishing village on the Big Island provides some rare footage of life in this sustainable community. The people and their simple lives struck a chord with Zimmern, who, as a proponent of revealing all that’s wrong with the U.S. food industry, was impressed by the ancient fishing culture. “In Milolii they still fish with giant nets the old-fashioned way,” he says.

Zimmern credits his parents, whom he describes as “food-forward people” with giving him “a love for all things culinary.” And he does means all things culinary.

Some of Zimmern’s tasty treats during more than 100 episodes of Bizarre Foods include squirrel brains in West Virginia, fruit bats in Samoa and scorpions for lunch in Vietnam.

The Hawaii episode, filmed last year during a whirlwind visit to the Islands, shows Zimmern eating pickled fruit and cotton candy at Jade Foods, Lomi oio (scraped bonefish with nuts, shoyu and dried shrimp) at Tersty Treats, traveling upcountry Maui to Ali’i Lavender Gardens, eating opihi on Molokai and joining chef James McDonald of O’o Farms to eat roasted goat fresh from the spit. Roy Yamaguchi cooks up some snails with tofu and wasabi, and Zimmern is invited to a traditional luau on the North Shore. The show highlights some truly hidden secrets in Hawaii – all of them apparently delicious.

I had heard, though, that there was one food that Zimmern found unpalatable, and I had to ask. Does the man who’s eaten rodents, snakes and reproductive organs from more than 40 different species really refuse to eat Spam?

“Spam is, I think, the poster child for everything that’s wrong with food in the world,” he says. “I do not object to the nature of the meat, obviously. I think ground-up ears, snouts, feet and tails makes for delicious food. In the Philippines, it’s cooked fresh to order and called sisig - I love it. I love head cheese. I love souse. I love scrapple. I love all those things. But they’re cooked by a real human being. Spam is ground up the lowest common denominator into a cardboard box with a special liner, cooked inside the box and then loaded with enough junk that it is shelf-stable. To me, that’s not food.”

For a preview of the July Bizarre Foods America show and to hear Andrew talk about Hawaii, go to travelchannel.com.

Happy eating!

tabletalk@ hawaii.rr.com

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