Tuesday, March 11, 2008
I know that I complained in a recent blog entry about soumbala and gumbo. But there’s foods far more exotic than that in West Africa.
By "exotic" foods, I mean foods that back home in Nebraska we'd describe as 'different'.
'Different' is a way to say 'really, really bad' in Midwestern Understated Dialect. If you invite a Nebraskan to see a politically-inspired modern dance piece featuring nude performers, scrap metal and chunks of raw meat, chances are he or she would say afterwards : "Thanks. That was different." We are a polite, cautious people.
So, being Nebraska born and raised, I'd have to say that caterpillars are different.
Now, I like caterpillars when they are A) humorous sidekick caterpillars, as featured in popular animated films, such as Bug’s Life. Or B) colourful creatures that stay outdoors, not making personal contact with me and eventually turning into butterflies.
I do NOT like caterpillars when they are C) dried, toasted and presented to me as my lunch.
Bobo-Dioulasso, the second largest city in Burkina, is famous for its edible caterpillars. It’s not a culinary oddity that the thrill-seeker has to laboriously ferret out. People present the things proudly at the town’s main market: bag after bag of the chubby brown bodies.
They are commonly eaten in sauces, but also in salads. And instead of a boring old mushroom omelette, in Burkina you can have yours with caterpillars.
I’ve posted a picture above from a cookbook called “Culinary Arts of Burkina Faso” (It’s published by the national tourisme office here). The book features several typical Burkinabé foods: tô, degue, zoom-koom, dolo, etc. and right in there among them are recipes for salad and omelettes featuring sitmus caterpillars.
Roasted grasshoppers are another somewhat alarming specialty. My friend Delphine loves them and nothing makes her happier than when a friend from Niger sends her a bag full of the crunchy treats. When she urged me to try some, I gingerly picked past the whole insects and found a small leg. It was not horrible, but I couldn’t get past the idea.
Eldest daughter (then age 6) is far more adventurous than her mom. She carefully chose a whole insect and popped it in her mouth. She thought it was great and settled down beside Delphine to eat a few more. She reported that the heads were a bit icky, but the bodies were pretty good.
Just like potato chips, but with more protein, I guess.
Folks in Burkina also eat bats. This was a source of a minor misunderstanding when I first arrived in Ouaga. I haven’t tried it – and probably won’t. But you can order stewed bat in some local restaurants.
Agouti (or grasscutter) is also frequently found in restaurants here, even though they live more to the south in places like Ghana.
Monkey meat is sometimes found. It's euphemistically called "bush meat".
Of course, the average person here doesn't eat much meat at all. And when they do, it tends to be either goat or mutton. Neither of these dishes are ever served at our house, though -especially the former.
Aslan the Wonder Goat is our friend, not our food!