The opening of the Dallas-Fort Worth episode of Bizarre Foods America, which airs Monday night on Travel Channel, features some of the expected TV cliches about DFW: the shots of cattle, the “everything’s bigger in Texas” line. But the episode quickly moves away from stereotypes to depict the diversity in the area’s food scene.
“The first couple of shots of our shows, you’re gonna see a cow, you’re gonna see cowboy boots, you’re gonna see all that, because that’s the way we set it for us,” host Andrew Zimmern says “It’s ‘Here’s what you think you know about Dallas ... but here’s what you don’t know.’ I think if you only service what people have come to expect, then you’re doing them a disservice.”
The episode includes ethnic cuisines many people might not immediately associate with Texas, but it also includes what you do expect: barbecue. Zimmern, accompanied by Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn, visits Fort Worth’s Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que and Dallas’ Odom’s and Lockhart Smokehouse. That might not sound all that bizarre, but Zimmern says that bizarre might not mean what you think it does.
“The point of our show is not to showcase weird food,” Zimmern said Saturday. “We want to refocus the word bizarre, bring it back to the Webster’s definition of it. I think the first line is ‘unique or interesting.’ ... You say barbecue in Texas and it’s beef, right? Yet there are some really established guys in Texas who are starting to do stuff with Texas rabbit, who are starting to do stuff with game birds. They’re sort of spreading out the definition of what it means to be cooking over live fire.”
Those guys include Fort Worth chef Tim Love, with whom Zimmern goes hunting before chowing down on venison and paella made with rabbit-rattlesnake sausage at Love’s Woodshed Smokehouse. Zimmern also hangs out with Tim Byres of Dallas’ Smoke and Chicken Scratch, who digs an earth oven and cooks a cow’s head in it (in case you haven’t guessed, Bizarre Foods is not for the squeamish).
But it’s not all about barbecue. Zimmern also visits Russian Banya Family Spa & Cafe in Carrollton, where you get to see a whole lot of Zimmern getting a spa treatment before having a meal that includes “herring in a fur coat” -- herring layered with vegetables, then topped with mayonnaise and grated eggs ; dines with a Thai community in a Dallas suburb, eating fermented duck eggs, chicken feet and a shrimp paste dip seasoned with giant water bugs; and enjoys moronga (blood pudding, made with goat’s blood, heart, stomach lining and intestines) and young goat stew at Fort Worth’s Revolver Taco Lounge, where the interview for this story took place.
“The special [the previous night] was tacos de sesos -- brain tacos,” Zimmern says. “That’s not Americanized, crispy tortilla, lettuce and hot, medium or mild sauce. They’re cooking real Mexican food here. For a lot of people in a lot of countries, their vision of Mexican food is Tex-Mex.” (We tried the moronga, which was delicious, with a dusky, earthy flavor, set off by a lime-infused sauce.)
Zimmern has traveled the world for his original show, Bizarre Foods, trying to strike the balance between food show and travel show . Bizarre Foods America, which came later, focuses on some of the more unusual cuisine that can be found in the states. Eating overseas foods that most Americans are unfamiliar with might seem exotic, but Zimmern says that he’s found the American version to be the easier show because of the country’s diversity.
“When I go to live in tribal Africa, people expect some funky thing that they’ve never seen before and some bush meat and some ways of living that are diametrically opposed to their own,” Zimmern says. “But there’s only so much of that before it becomes repetitive. ... When we come in and do an American city, like Dallas, I can do a smoked-meat story, I can do a Mexican story, I can go into a Russian bathhouse, get naked, steam and then cook a meal on the heating apparatus that the steam comes from. You have a very large variety here.”