San Diego was fertile ground for the Bizarre Foods America treatment with its multicultural culinary community. Host Andrew Zimmern also communed with zoo animals and even an octopus.
In the latest Bizarre Foods America episode, fans were treated to a close look at the seafood industry at work, along with visits to chefs who have recreated places that serve Mexican and Filipino dishes rarely seen outside their native countries. Andrew took a side trip to the world famous San Diego zoo and found a food operation that amazed him.
The wonders of Catalina Offshore Exports:
The company founded by a husband and wife some three decades ago today exports millions of pounds of exquisite California coast seafood, particularly some of the best sea urchin or uni, as they are called in Japan.
Once again fans needed a bit of a strong stomach to take the tour of this vast enterprise along with host Andrew Zimmern as he became more delighted each time he was offered something rare or unusual.
Sea urchin coloring is spectacular and those nodes removed from the prickly shells are the urchin’s gonads, covering 80% of the creature’s insides. Andrew sucked them down right out of the sea water. A single bit of the best of the lot is $15 a bite...wholesale
Catalina also has a fish market with the freshest of Baja marine life. You can sample live while you shop. Andrew peeled back the “feathery” legs of the prawns to find the eggs. "Taste’s like avocado", said Andrew.
Baja octopus caught fresh the day before was still alive and spitting at Andrew as he picked it up and plopped it on his arms. There is nothing this man won't do. He also has a way with hyperbole, in case you haven't noticed. He noted that bone marrow plucked from a swordfish's spine and eaten raw was:
"Incredible, not fatty, not bloody, clean, crisp and gelatinous. Like seafood cotton candy. Not one fish flavor in it at all.”
Mexican specialties found along the freeway and in a backyard BBQ pit
Tortas Ahogadas, a food service truck parked in a lot off the 5 freeway has been family run for a decade, serving up up one thing --- Torta Ahogadas, a hot sandwich made Guadalajaran style. It is distinguished by its thick and dark bread, carnitas slow roasted along with refried beans, pickled onion and hot sauce.
The entire works is soaked in the most aromatic and spicy sauce that made Zimmern remark as he held the treat, "It’s a messy experience. My fingers go a quarter inch deep into the sauce over the bread." Yet the always animated host just smiled and shook his head as he polished it off.
A BBQ joint was next, specializing in one thing: lamb. It’s a small restaurant in a strip mall and the dishes are made from Texcoco recipes, an old Aztec town on the outskirts of Mexico City. The place is called "Aqui es Texcoco."
While it is scrumptious when served there, the real treat was when Zimmern got invited to the owner's home where a backyard, underground BBQ pit produced the truly authentic dishes. The host slow cooked an entire body of lamb, including eyes, shoulders, legs, a stomach that was stuffed with other internal organs, head, brains, ribs and loin.
Andrew called the pit roasting process “genius” because it incorporates a drip pan that catches the juices for a distinct course of lamb broth. Zimmern said he’s seen outdoor underground pits in 40 countries, but, "I’ve never seen anything like this . It is perfect."
San Diego Zoo animals eat well too. The Bizarre Foods cameras took a loving look at the nutritionists, chefs and animal handlers who feed 4,000 animals and birds belonging to 800 species each day.
His visit to San Diego was topped off with a trip to one of the largest Filipino communities in the U.S. National City, California gave Zimmern a chance to sample a unique delicacy while shopping at a Filipino grocery store. Zimmern stopped and cracked open the shell of a fertilized duck egg and sampled the embryo inside.
A traditional Filipino dish, it is best when the embryo has not reached the stage when it has distinct bones and feathers. " It is a quick way to grab a bit of protein as you browse the market," Andrew exclaimed as he nibbled. “It actually does taste like chicken,” his chef companion remarked.
Bizarre Foods America airs new episodes each Monday night at 9:00 p.m. ET on the Travel Channel. The show's website has bonus video of unaired scenes and you can learn more about each stop along the way with Andrew Zimmern. Image: Wikimedia Commons
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