South Africa: Mopani Worms Stake a Claim On the Global Stage

Insects. They are what we’re told we’ll all soon be eating if we care about the planet. For Wendy Vesela-Ntimbani, born in Limpopo, the mopani worm has been a culinary favourite since she was a kid. Now she is sharing them with the world. A cash cow disguised as a caterpillar?

Squeamish about what you eat? “Get over it!” That command came my way as I was about to bite into a mopani worm for the first time. It was Travel Indaba 2011 in Durban. The Limpopo stand, where a chef had cooked up a mopani stew. I was pondering whether to start by biting off the head or the tail. My face had apparently spontaneously squished into an expression of mild revulsion. The guest house owner, to whom I had confessed that I had never tried a mopani worm, was not going to have me worm my way out of this “opportunity”.

“Don’t scrutinise and analyse. Just eat it,” she barked. Then added: “They’re nutritious. They have protein and the skin gives you roughage.” Suitably reprimanded and a little ashamed even though her clinical description did nothing to whet my appetite, I took a deep breath. Then a bite….