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!


Anonymous said...

Interesting blog today. Regrettably, I was eating breakfast. Emphasis on the 'was'. :)

Love ya!

BurkinaMom said...

Thanks for not saying it was "different"!

babzee said...

You beat me to the "different" comment! Did I mention we will be coming to visit you AFTER you return to France, and not only for economic reasons? (Although I suppose your Alpine neighbors might be able to disguise their caterpillars with plenty of creamy sauces...)

Anonymous said...

I'm reading about Lewis and Clark and some of the stuff they ate on their journey. Just saying, a Burkinabe would find their choices "different" indeed!

But I think you've just gotten the wrong preparation of caterpillar --deep fried until very crispy and dry, and covered in piri-piri powder, they're just like Cheetos -- you know, the dense kind of Cheeto, not the puffy one.

With bugs, it's probably easier to start tiny with ant eggs, which I swear if I didn't tell you what they were, you'd think of them as lemon-poppies. And the one time I ate a stir-fried bat, it was fine, I didn't even know.

Actually this does get into one of my food things, which is why people notice cultural differences in the animals we eat more so than in the plants. Ultimately, if you fry most tiny critters, or chop them fine and douse them with bbq sauce, they probably taste like most other critters. So the revulsion comes much more from our culture than our tastebuds. But there are some REALLY wacky, undisguisable plants out there, like mouloukhiya -- the slimiest plant there is, far more than okra -- REALLY slimy. I remember in French II, we were told that French people were disgusted by the idea of humeans eating corn (I don't know if that is true). And certainly, it would be hard to describe what separates a fancy delectable mushroom from ugly fungus nobody would ever touch...

Just rambling. I just wouldn't want you to scare anyone off of Burkinabe food, because that oseille sauce on to (can't do a circumflex) rocks my world!

MLW (who won't touch ketchup, mustard or mayo--ick).

Dirk Gently said...

I have no problem with people eating caterpillars, grasshoppers, grubs, termites, or whatever. They are, I'm sure, nutritious and plentiful etc.

But I feel that once a society has risen to the level of having restaurants, those foodstuffs should be left behind.

And that goes for snails, too.

Cyndy said...

Hmmm, quite a subject for the Kalinowski's and Burkanabe crew. Last summer I was complaining about the bats that got mixed up, took a wrong turn and ended up in the house every time we turned on the air conditioner. (We have a brick tile house built in 1925. Needless to say they have found the inside of the bricks a great palce to nest.) Anyway, Grandma, Delila and Stephanie thought it was hilarious and told us that in Burkina, they would catch and eat them. I thought it was a village thing. Had no idea it was served in restaurants.
In addition, we have many, many stories about Rakieta and eating her chicken bones. We just accepted it. However, most Americans found this a little "different". Finally a Ghanian grandmother we knew explained to her that she should only do this in private because it was so uncomfortable for most Americans. She did finish with "It is very good though isn't it?!" Rakieta agreed.

There is a new show on Travel channel dedicated to strange and unusual foods in the world. It is pretty good