Cape Town: Mopane worms are a traditional snack in South Africa, but a Cape Town restaurant is set to crawl into the history books as the first to serve a full menu of bug-infused delicacies. The Insect Experience, which opened its doors this month, is offering an alternative food source to the city's mainstream culinary experience.
The restaurant was opened by Gourmet Grub, a company that has already introduced Cape Town to dairy-free ice cream made from insect milk. Co-founder and head of product development Leah Bessa has been investigating insects as a viable protein substitute.
"In general insects are really high in protein and fat, comparable to red meat in their protein and fat content. The insects we use, the black soldier fly larvae, are much higher in zinc, iron and calcium than beef," she said.
According to Bessa, the insects are also high in dietary fibre and have no carbohydrate value. The bugs are bred by two local farmers and delivered straight to the restaurant. Mealworms and mopane worms are some of the creepy-crawlies that chef Mario Barnard has included in his dishes. In 2015, he went to Thailand and for the first time experienced dishes made with tarantulas and scorpions.
"I knew then that I wanted to hide insects in food, incorporated into little gourmet dishes, to introduce to South Africans," Barnard said. The restaurant serves mopane worm polenta fries, and black fly larvae chickpea croquettes paired with a mopane hummus and topped off with a sprinkle of dried mealworms. For dessert, it offers deep-fried dark chocolate black fly larvae ice cream.
"I chose these dishes for introducing insects to people because they're already familiar with them – everyone knows polenta fries and croquettes," he said. One customer told AFP: "It's delicious, it's flavourful and spicy, it's everything you want in food."