More Mopane Please
Post by Asia Moore from Temple University
Mopane Worm: an edible caterpillar that feeds on the leaves of Mopane trees; a South African delicacy.
My first encounter with mopane worms was quite peculiar. On the second night of my homestay, my host mom and I sat in the kitchen speaking about all the possible food options I could partake in over the course of my stay with her. We went through the usual “do you eat chicken, beef, fish etc. and then worked our way through fruits and veggies. Once we got through all the foods I ate back at home, she began to go through some of the staple foods in Botswana. She described meals of smashed beans (dikobe), pap (a mix of maize thickened with water), spinach and mopane which she said was “very nice”. I pretty sure I had given her a confused stare because in no time she was digging around in the freezer to show me exactly what mopane was. She presented me with a small blue plastic bag and opened it to show me its contents. At first I couldn’t quite make out what I was looking at. I asked “Are these some kind of nuts?” Before she could answer I realized I was looking into a bag of caterpillars; literally a bag of worms. I gave her a slight smile and told her that I had never had mopane worms but may try them if she prepared them.Fast forwarding a few days, myself and a group of classmates went on a combi safari. We ventured to a few museums, mall and street vendors. On our journey through the city we came across a vendor who sold dried maize, dried beans, a mix of candies and dried mopane worms. Unfortunately, we had to pose with the worms for a picture as a part of the safari. I couldn’t even bring myself to pick one up let alone taste it. Once we had posed and snapped pictures, I was eager to leave the stand and all memory of the worms behind.
I think I may have been too eager because once I got home I was in for a big surprise. I came in to find my host mom watching t.v. She explained that she had already prepared dinner and that I was welcome to make a plate whenever I was ready. Tired and hungry, I went to the kitchen, washed my hands and began to share a plate for myself. Taking the lids off of the pots I swore I was being punk’d. She had prepared some spinach, pap and mopane worms. My host mom then proceeded to come into the kitchen to watch as I made a plate. I cautioned her that I would only take a little bit of food (a.k.a mopane worms) so that I wouldn’t waste. She nodded her head in agreement and we went to sit in front of the tv as I ate my plate of food.As I ate the worms, she watched for a smile or a physical sign of enjoyment. Usually I would crack a smile, but I think I was trying to focus on swallowing the worms at that moment. They were a strange crunchy leathery texture and I felt like I was chewing for forever. After I awkwardly explained that I really didn’t enjoy the worms we went on with the evening watching tv and conversing. I don’t remember the worms having any distinct taste but I know that I have no interest in experiencing mopane worms in the future. In retrospect, though I didn’t enjoy this southern African delicacy, I can always brag about eating a mopane worms with dignity.