The Meal That Andrew Zimmern Recounts As His Most Memorable

Andrew Zimmern made a name for himself on the show "Bizarre Foods," and according to the celebrity chef and TV star, one specific dish takes the honor of being the most unforgettable he has ever tried: palolo. "I think the most memorable ones, just by definition, have to be the 'Dr. Seuss foods' that I've eaten," Zimmern told Forbes. "Those are foods that no amount of research that we did, which was voluminous, ever led us to believe that there was a floating coral worm off the coast of Samoa."

A type of bristle marine worm, palolo live inside coral reefs throughout the South Pacific. Twice a year, in October and November during the final quarter of the moon, these worms begin their reproductive cycle. This involves separating their tails from the rest of their bodies. The colorful tails float to the ocean surface and are scooped up by resident Samoans using nets and baskets. The worms are either a blue-green color (female) or a red-brown mix (male).

Samoans enjoy the palolo worm by sauteing it with onions, wrapping it in leaves for grilling, frying it, or simply eating it raw. Zimmern — who is no stranger to sampling international foods — was introduced to the local delicacy when he visited Samoa in Season 2 of "Bizarre Foods," and wrote on his website that the worms taste "like liver fermented in salt water, but that doesn't do the bright blue color very much justice."

The cultural significance of palolo

Beyond being a delicacy, palolo holds cultural significance to the Samoan people. At the time of harvest, just before dawn, residents will either wade into the ocean or take a canoe out with fishing nets and baskets for collecting the worm tails. Those doing the catching are encouraged to wear leis with fragrant flowers to attract the palolo.

After the palolo is caught, it's time to celebrate the harvest. Samoans honor this occasion by throwing feasts featuring the worm, with the scent wafting around from the plentiful cooking fires. "I've eaten a lot of worms in my day, but the sheer aroma of palolo puts it into a category all by itself," Andrew Zimmern said during Season 2, Episode 12 of "Bizarre Foods." In communities where the palolo don't appear, the bounty is shared from areas that did have a successful harvest.

What the future holds for the palolo and the Samoan people remains to be seen. Currently, the worm is listed as "data insufficient" on the IUCN Red List, which indicates that more research is needed to determine if palolo are a threatened species. With global warming already wreaking havoc on chocolate production and affecting baking products like wheat flour, damage to Samoa's coral reefs due to rising temperatures might impact palolo harvests. Palolo is found more abundantly in areas with healthy coral reefs, so only time will tell if this twice-a-year specialty will become less readily available.