Pan African cuisine is the latest foodie trend in the cultured cities of Africa, serving up dishes from across the continent in all their weird and wonderful variety.
One dish that might be considered an acquired taste, is that of the Mopane Worm, the green and blue spiky caterpillar of the nocturnal Emperor Moth. It looks very pretty on the butterfly-leafed Mopane Tree, but loses some of its appeal once its innards have been squeezed out, and it has been boiled and sun dried, then re-hydrated when needed.
Containing 60% protein and significant amounts of phosphorus, iron and calcium, the Mopane Worm is unrivalled as an easily obtainable source of free food for people living in the broad leaf savannah of Botswana, Zimbabwe and northern parts of South Africa.
The flavour of Mopane Worms is like seasoned cardboard with a definite hint of timber - all look and no taste. It is perhaps for this reason that they are most often served in a sauce.
The Boma, Place of Eating at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge serve them as a snack with peanut sauce and a certificate testifying that you have partaken. Iyavaya Restaurant in Johannesburg offer them fried in a spicy tomato sauce accompanied by pap.
Somebody obviously likes them because Iyavaya orders 40 kilos every 2 weeks. But Cape Town is oblivious to the delights of this dish and Africa Café's response was, "We prefer to serve food that people enjoy!"
Mopane Worms are apparently more appetising when left soft inside and crisp outside, but as suggested by Esther Van der Westhuizen at Butterfly World near Paarl, the caterpillar is just an eating machine with one big alimentary canal, so it would be rather like eating a big gut.
Other suggested uses as proposed by my dining partners were; as a false moustache, a prickly missile or strung up as a mobile.
The recipe for Caterpillar Supreme as supplied by the Campfire Association involved in managing natural resources is: Wash the dried caterpillars thoroughly. Steam with salted water for 10 minutes. Fry in oil until crisp and serve with tomato relish. Enjoy.
Copyright © Carrie Hampton