Our upstairs neighbors recently went on a trip to Botswana and South Africa. Last night, we stopped by to eat some wildebeest paté, impala paté, (both good) and crunch on sundried mopani worms, a staple food of northern Botswana.
I once swore that I would never eat grubs unless some saintly grandmother offered me a plate of homemade worms. As it turns out, that might have been a better policy, but I was curious. Plus, I couldn’t bear to be a chicken. (If you like this sort of thing, Sietsema will soon be having a Thai beetle party)
We watched a short documentary about the worms before we sampled them. Mopani worms are harvested twice a year — cue closeup on the fattest, goopiest, most bristly grubs I have ever seen. The caterpillars live on the mopani tree, and, if left alone, will become emperor moths, one of the largest moths in the world. Local people harvest them by plucking them off the tree, and then squeezing their bright green guts out — like getting the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube. They’re boiled in salted water, and laid out in the sun to dry. Then they’re often eaten with maize or in a peanut stew. Apparently, the worms have more protein than beef.
Our friends tried mopani worms on their trip, but couldn’t bring them back to the US. So instead they bought some online from Edible, a British company.
Blessedly, the drying process shrinks the worms substantially. We passed them around, filled our wine glasses, and crunched. The worms smell faintly of dirt, and taste like dried shrimp but with a very unappetizing texture. The outer carapace crunches, and then the whole thing breaks down into a kind of clumpy powder that gets stuck in your teeth and won’t go away. I think I’d prefer them in the peanut stew.