Sunday, April 28, 2013

Andrew Zimmern’s Field Guide to Exceptionally Weird, Wild, & Wonderful Foods

I love eating. Sitting down to a great meal is one of my favorite things in the world. But what if that meal was a soup made from a bird’s nest? Well, guess what? That’s what at least one corner of the world calls a delicacy, and Andrew Zimmern loves it. This guy (whose show I’ve enjoyed on the Travel Channel for the past couple years) goes after the weirdest, most unlikely meals, chows down willingly, and writes about it in this engaging educational book.

This is my “quick picks for reluctant readers” book. Zimmern splits the book into sections, each based around a strange dish or ingredient. Examples include haggis, squid ink, wildebeest, tarantulas and giant fruit bats. Yes, some of it sounds pretty bad. But Zimmern touts their virtues, saying that he’d rather eat stuffed lamb spleen than hot dogs from a street vendor, because at least he knows where the lamb spleen came from (and what it contains, which can’t be said for all hot dogs!) He genuinely likes this stuff, expounding on the virtues of haggis (chopped intestines boiled inside a sheep's stomach), but makes clear the most important thing: try new things. And heck, it’s probably all better for you than school lunches.

Although food takes the main stage, Zimmern works different elements into each section to maximize educational content. In the chapter on brains, for instance (which are of course delicious), he gives miniature bios on famous brainiacs from history past. So on top of hearing about a food other cultures genuinely enjoy, readers can learn a bit about Da Vinci and Stephen Hawking. At times, the different sections feel a bit shoehorned in, but it’s easy to keep the concept in mind, and even as an older reader, I can honestly say I learned a thing or two. What really counts is its multicultural value, and I think food is one of the best ways to introduce anyone to a new culture.

I’d recommend Zimmern’s book for a younger (probably middle school) reader who isn’t necessarily ready to dive into the text-only world of novels or other nonfiction in their spare time. With pictures, illustrations and charts, it’s a visually dynamic book. It provides just enough “gross!” factor to be interesting to kids (see the part about getting boys to read here). And besides giving the reader a somewhat voyeuristic look inside the “alternative” dining habits of Zimmern, it touches, however briefly, on science, history, pop culture, current events, poetry, literature and other strange bits of random knowledge. It’s fun, informative and genuinely well-written, and even a nominally engaged reader should get something out of it.

Zimmern talking about his book, being his usual camera-friendly self:


Jessica Pagliara said...

I love him! I didn't know he had a book. I agree with you when you say this book probably has just enough "gross" in it for a young audience. It sounds like an interesting read!

maria rendon said...

I never read this book, but anything that is a weird and unusual read intrigues me. I going to add this to my list of books to read in the future. I enjoyed your review.

Zia Nathan said...

I've been watching his show for a really long time now and I never knew that he actually wrote a book about all the things he has eaten.

The fact that he'd rather eat stuffed lamb spleen than a hot dog because he knows where it came from actually makes a lot of sense to me and I never thought of it that way.

I also like how he encourages people to try new things and step out of their comfort zones, even though it is just trying new foods.