While the Travel Channel sometimes seems to make its living on "extreme" shows ("Extreme Truck Stops", "Extreme Buildings", "Extreme Fast Food"), there are a few actual shows on the network, such as acidic chef Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" and the new competitive eating show, "Man Vs. Food".
While Bourdain's show is genuinely entertaining and insightful, Andrew Zimmern's "Bizarre Foods" seems like an attempt to provide a counterbalance to Bourdain - whereas Bourdain's famously bitter personality occasionally shows some warmth, Zimmern is - with few exceptions - genuinely cheery (one can hardly imagine Bourdain chatting up a group of Minnesota folks in a tiny town with quite the same good cheer that Zimmern offers them.) Zimmern has occasionally appeared on "No Reservations", and the two chefs make for an amusing contrast in both appearance and personality.
Of course, there's also one other large difference: whereas Bourdain often gets to sample the sublime in his travels around the world, what Zimmern is often faced with resembles a leftover stunt from "Fear Factor"; while I'm not going to argue with their standing as delicacies in their native countries, I'll still say that the show is not for those who are easily grossed out (oddly, Zimmern's tag line for the series is, "If it looks good, eat it.")
The food varies from odd combinations (mayo and peanut butter hamburger in Minnesota) to the exotic (cicada, puffin) and the just plain bizarre (rotten shark.) While I certainly understand the message that Zimmern is trying to put across (sharing food is a bridge to understanding other cultures, be more adventurous in your food choices when in a new place rather than trying to search out what's familiar), but I also appreciate the host's honesty - when Zimmern encounters something particularly foul, he's not afraid to say he doesn't care for a dish he's just sampled.
While a good portion of the series follows Zimmern as he tastes various odd foods, he also manages to be a good tour guide, providing facts and insights into the local sights and culture. Early in the episode, we often are presented with a map showing the route Zummern and the production will take around the area, and a bit about each of the stops.
Overall, "Bizarre Foods" isn't an easy series to watch in a marathon format (especially for those who get queasy easily), but it's an entertaining adventure that works as both travel guide and intro to some of the world's most exotic and surprising foods.
Episodes: Iceland, St Petersburg, Russia; Minnesota, Guangzhou, China; Beijing, China; Bolivia, Chile, Delhi, India; Phuket, Thailand. Also included is the "best of" episode, "Best Bites".
VIDEO: Image Entertainment presents the second season episodes of "Bizarre Foods" in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The episodes looked largely terrific, matching the quality of digital cable. Sharpness and detail were above-average throughout much of the running time, although a few scenes appeared mildly softer than the rest. Aside from a bit of light shimmer and a few minor instances of pixelation, the picture looked crisp and clean, with bright, well-saturated colors.
SOUND: The show's stereo soundtrack remained crisp and clear throughout the proceedings, with clean, well-recorded dialogue and ambience.
EXTRAS: "Eats on the Streets" has Zimmern venturing out and chatting with the public about bizarre foods, as well as offering samples. We also get outtakes and TV spots.
Final Thoughts: "Bizarre Foods" takes an international culinary tour, managing to be both an enjoyable tour guide and an exploration of some of the more weird and wild eats that can be found in different cultures around the globe. The DVD set provides a few minor extras, but fine audio/video quality. Recommended.