According to chef and food activist Daniel Klein, eating crickets isn’t really all that weird. “They’re crunchy and taste a bit nutty,” he says. “Water bugs have an odder taste—like perfume.” Klein has eaten a lot of bugs. With his wife, Mirra Fine, he founded The Perennial Plate, a two-time James Beard Award-winning online documentary series “dedicated to socially responsible and adventurous eating.”
Based in state, they began the series in Minnesota, followed by a yearlong road trip throughout the nation. In 2012 they partnered with Intrepid Travel to explore food and food producers in 12 different countries. Most recently, they filmed and hosted the PBS series, The Victory Garden, a re-launch of the classic gardening show. They’ve made moonshine in North Carolina, climbed for coconuts in Sri Lanka, and eaten iguana in Florida (well, Klein has—Fine is a vegetarian. “I’m the resident taster,” he says).
We recently caught up with the pair at home, on a break, having just celebrated the birth of their son. Here, Klein offers advice on how to feel at ease on the road, what to pack for a trip abroad, and the best place to eat in any country.
As the self-proclaimed resident taster for The Perennial Plate, what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever eaten?
The iguana was weird. It tasted like fishy chicken. I’ve eaten balut (developing duck embryo) in Vietnam. I expected the worst with that, but I really liked it. I ate a very unpleasant soup in the Sudan. It was viscous and green—kind of like okra cooked down and pureed into a goo. Then they added dried fish. I don’t care to eat that again.
What’s your country count up to? Have you always had wanderlust?
I’ve visited about 50 countries so far. My parents emphasized travel. They moved my two brothers and I to Singapore when I was four and then to England. Rather than giving us presents for birthdays or holidays, they would take us on trips. We went to India as a family and trekked in the Himalayas. They wanted to live an adventurous life and took the kids along for the ride.
What stands out as one of your biggest adventures?
The first film I made, What Are We Doing Here?, about Western aid in Africa, entailed traveling from Cairo to Cape Town, more than 6,400 miles across Africa, with my brothers and our cousin. We made the trip entirely on public transportation, navigating with a Lonely Planet guide and, when we could find them, Internet cafés.
What are your travel tips for someone embarking on a journey abroad?
Always have a goal for your trip. Set out to learn or do something specific. And, of course, pack light. Also, don’t get sucked into all the gear—a specialized travel wallet or breathable pants that tear off at the knee. You don’t need to pack for every single scenario. In most cases, if you forgot something, or encounter unexpected weather conditions, you can buy whatever you need. We’ve also learned to spend more than a day or two in each city. You can see all of Rome in a day, but you won’t enjoy it.
What do you look for when eating abroad?
A busy street stall. If there’s a long line, there’s a good chance the food is worth waiting for. And you’re less likely to get sick at street stalls where they cook everything fresh, right on the spot. There’s no refrigeration. That’s the real danger zone for food. When you thaw it out, warm it up, and then refrigerate it again, bacteria has a chance to grow. I’d eat at a street stall over a fancy hotel any day.
Hard question: What’s your favorite country to visit?
Well, I will say India is my favorite place to eat. And it’s actually quite safe. The people are kind and generous. Plus it changes so much as you travel through the country so it feels as though you’re seeing 10 different places. It’s so striking and so different from America. India is more difficult to get around than most places, however. It’s dirty and crowded, which can be stressful. But I think the good outweighs the challenges.
What’s next? Will you travel as much with a baby on board?
We’ll have to see. This is our first child so we don’t know what to expect. I do think we’ll travel less, but we will continue to travel and film with him in tow much as possible. What better education for him than to come along on our adventures? Plus, working and traveling together, as a couple—and now as a family—is one of the main perks of our lifestyle. We don’t want to split up—one of us traveling while the other stays home with the baby. We’d like to find a way to stick together.