A Slimy Meal at Maneki with Bizarre Foods’ Andrew Zimmern

zimmern_menuSo far this week, there have been Andrew Zimmern sightings at The Walrus and the Carpenter, Fu Lin (not a place I’d recommend for ramen), and Marination Mobile, a few of the places he’s visiting while shooting a Seattle-area episode of Bizarre Foods. Perhaps most bizarre was his visit to Sea Breeze Farm, where he witnessed the birth of a calf, named it Jessie, and then ate the placenta raw—along with a colostrum chaser.

Last night, I had a chance to meet Zimmern at Maneki, chosen partly due to its heritage of being over 100 years old. Owner Jean Nakayama consulted with me about the menu and decided to do “neba neba” foods, thinking she’d slime Zimmern. He ate at the bar, with Nakayama playing co-star with her usual grace and gift of gab.

With prime seating in the adjoining tatami room, I watched Zimmern work his way through the gooey menu, tantalized by the textures and talking approvingly about the smells and flavors of the dishes. (“It’s cheesy, but in a good way,” he commented at one point.) The man knows food and appreciates Japanese cuisine.

He also knows the power of social media. Between dishes, he’d whip out his camera phone and quickly post pictures of the food to his Twitter account. And he’s got a great sense of humor. At one point, an older, Japanese customer came by the sushi bar where he was sitting, stopped, and said that he looked like someone she’d seen on the Travel Channel. He asked if it was “that fat guy Zimmern” or “the taller, skinnier Bourdain.” She said the former, but that he couldn’t be Zimmern, as Zimmern was much heavier. (This brought lots of laughs from the crew.)

zimmern_shiokara_maneki_9154With no fear of bizarre food, I told Nakayama “I’ll have what he’s having” and indulged in the house-made ika shiokara (fermented squid guts, pictured). I also enjoyed the rare opportunity to try imogara (dried taro stems), which Nakayama brought back from Chiba, Japan. She also served mekabu (the slimy, flowering sprout of kelp—some call it the genitals of kelp with its gooey threads) accompanied by kazunoko konbu (herring roe on kelp), which I’ve savored previously at Shiro’s. The roe is like bubble wrap in the mouth, each bite an explosion full of delicious ocean to swallow.

Motsu ni is a favorite dish I’ve had in Japan, as I’m game for tripe anytime. The meal ended with a neba neba bowl of natto (fermented soybeans), okra, and raw maguro (tuna), and ikura (salmon eggs). Natto is something I eat at home constantly; it’s good for the brain and the rest of the body, and some say the same about the aforementioned nutrition-rich placenta.

zimmernZimmern and I had a chance to chat briefly after the shoot. He was thrilled with his meal at Maneki and all of his experiences so far in Seattle, and was looking forward to digging up some geoduck today. Talk of geoducks and placentas provided the perfect transition to the question this sex educator/food writer asks many food personalities: “What do you consider to be the sexiest food?”

Giving it some thought, Zimmern replied that it’s not a specific item, but food that’s eaten by hand, especially things that are large and layered (physically and with flavor). “Jackfruit’s a good example of something that’s really sexy to eat,” he said, before launching into tales of trips to southeast Asia, Morocco, and, essentially, everywhere else he’s traveled. After all, food takes us places.

Seattle is due to shine on Bizarre Foods sometime in January.