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Mopane worms are a regional delicacy eaten with gusto by the local population either fried with tomatoes and onions, or cooked in a pot of soup, or just eaten dried and crispy like earthy, once-wriggling Doritos. Technically they are not worms; they are caterpillars, but I think if you are crunching down on a big mouthful of creepy-crawly this distinction is academic.
They are called Mopane worms because they generally feed off the Mopane tree, but if you are ever in the area and want to sample a good Mopane worm, you can impress the locals by asking for them by their proper name: phane in Botswana, mashonja in Zimbabwe, and omangungu in Namibia. You should also know that the worms, once dried, get very coarse and scratchy and may actually hurt your skin a bit if you feel inclined to pour them over your head. I have a few pinpricks to prove it.
Like heirloom tomatoes at your favorite farmers’ market, Mopane worms are seasonal since they are the larvae of the Emperor Moth. Oh, and they are an excellent source of protein, calcium and iron. They are in fact so valued that the guy I bought them from was horrified to hear I would be dumping them over my head. “Don’t worry!” I said. “I will catch them with a nice clean towel so someone can still eat them.” He looked dubious, and I’m pretty sure I just added another person to the list of Ice Bucket Challenge haters. At least he’s in good company, jumping on that bandwagon just in time.
To keep up with the global theme, now that I’ve dumped something nonsensical over my head and given money to a charity, I challenge two more people in far-flung corners of the world. Amy Meyer in Bogota and Fahim Khan in Islamabad: you’re up! (I did it 31 weeks pregnant so there are no excuses.) Feel free to substitute your favorite local insect snack for the ice water, guys.
As a bonus, here is our adorable neighbor Gugu (Lila’s new favorite friend) demonstrating what a tasty snack Mopane worms are.