Thursday, August 15, 2019


Stanley - Thursday

Going to a convention which Yrsa Sigurdardottir is attending always bring the possibility of surprise - culinary surprise. I remember a few years ago when we were at Crimefest in Bristol, UK. We were enjoying a pleasant evening drink on the patio outside the bar. Then Yrsa arrived with an Icelandic delicacy - hákarl or fermented shark. It is sometimes called rotten shark in English. As she opened the package, people at surrounding tables began to leave. Within a few minutes, even people inside at the bar had gone to find less odorous pastures.

I have to admit, hákarl had a terrible smell. Fortunately, the taste wasn't as disgusting as it smelled. It was merely awful.

But Yrsa had anticipated the reaction to her surprise. She then opened a bottle of brennivín, a Nordic drink, known as jet fuel elsewhere in the world. Its purpose? To cauterize the tastebuds that were struggling to survive the scourge of the fermented shark.

On another occasion, Yrsa produce flattened sheep heads and on another, sheep-testicle paté. 

All these episodes  reminded me of a common disdain amongst my friends in the USA of offal. I grew up eating liver, kidneys, and sweetbreads. 'Ugh!' my American friends would say.

Now I have another food source for my friends to avoid: bugs.

At a recent mystery conference, Michael retaliated against Yrsa's onslaught by producing mopani worms - a common food in Southern Africa. They are actually caterpillars from a species of emperor moth. They are an important source of protein for millions of people.

A mopane worm

Fried mopane worms with spring onions

Emperor moth
I read recently of a South African company, Gourmet Grubb, that operates a pop-up food outlet in Cape Town called The Insect Experience, where dishes feature insects as the main ingredient. Amongst its offerings is an ice cream made from an insect-based dairy alternative they've named EntoMilk. The insect in question is Hermetia illucens, the black soldier fly.

"We sort of wanted to try and create a viable protein alternative that is sustainable and ethical and could really create quite a positive change going into the future," said food scientist, Leah Bessa, one of the owners of Gourmet Grubb. "Edible insects are incredibly healthy. They're high in protein, for one -- a quality protein that has the right amino-acid profile for human consumption. They're also high in iron and zinc, high in fibre, and they have a healthy fat profile."
Chef Mario Barnard wants to produce tasty food that looks so good that people's mental blocks don't get in the way of trying it. Some photos are below. I can't wait to get back to Cape Town.
Pasta with black soldier fly larvae, garnished with mealworms

Polenta fries made from mopane worm flour
Mopane worms more elegantly presented


Deep fried dark chocolate black fly larvae ice cream sprinkled with black fly larvae protein balls.
Photo Jay Caboz
There are more than 1,900 known edible insect species consumed around the world, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. And about 2 billion people globally consume insects, primarily in parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
So, if you're looking for something for your kids to study, perhaps you should consider entomophagy -- the consumption of insects by humans. It is a field that is growing quickly as the global demand for food strains traditional resources.
Bon appetit.


  1. "Mopane worms... where have I heard that before?" Then I remembered that Trevor Noah talked about them in his autobiography, "Born a Crime": "There was one month I'll never forget, the worst month of my life. We were so broke that for weeks we ate nothing but bowls of marogo, a kind of wild spinach, cooked with caterpillars. Mopane worms, they're called. Mopane worms are literally the cheapest thing that only the poorest of poor people eat. I grew up poor, but there's poor and then there's 'Wait, I'm eating worms.'"

  2. I turned down the offer of a mopane worm in Etosha in Namibia, Stan. Considering the number of foods I am allergic to, I was afraid I’d have to be airlifted to the hospital. When I was little—maybe seven—my father brought home boxes of chocolate covered ants and crickets. I was the only one in the family who would share them with my dad. I confess it was the chocolate that convinced me. My mother, who’d was terrified of insects, feared eating one would kill me. As for carrots, Caro, you can have my share. I have a proven allergy to them.

  3. I fondly remember those Icelandic Food Express moments, most notably Toby Gottfried's classic response to a request for her thoughts on tasting the sheep's testicle paté: "It needs salt."