Steve's Weird Food for Zambia, The "Survivor: Africa" Edition

Friday, January 15, 2010

It had to happen. I was in Africa after all, so eventually something creepy-crawly had to show up on a menu. See if you can pick it out from this picture:

You might have to click over to Flickr to get a better look, but yes, it’s that starter called IHNKUBALA. Mopane Worms (pron0unced moe- PAH-nay). Yup. Worms.

It was going to be our last supper together as a group, and Terrence and I were assigned to scout out a location since we were going in to Livingstone town that day to do a few errands. I had to mail home a big package containing my no-longer-necessary camping gear (halleluljah!), a few small souvenirs and gifts, and some assorted stuff that was being abandoned but not discarded. (This is distinct from the t-shirt I planned to abandon but instead traded at a carving market just outside the gates of our campground in Chitimba, Malawi. My old blue t-shirt + 300 Malawi Kwacha got me a nice carved giraffe from a guy who said his name was “Happy Pineapple”).

Here is Mr. Pineapple, showing off my giraffe, and holding the t-shirt that is no longer mine.

But back to the worms. As I said, Terrence and I were in charge of finding the dinner spot, and when we checked out Ngoma Zanga and I saw they actually had worms on the menu I knew with queasy certainty that I’d found my weird food for Zambia. Everyone else seemed fine with the choice of restaurant, but they were mostly interested in the “chicken in peanut sauce pounded by village wives”. In any case the reservation was made and by about 8:00pm the order was placed. Surprisingly, I was the only one who ordered a starter and too soon, it arrived:

With onions. Yeah, I'm sure the onions will make ALL the difference.

They were… not awful. Pan-fried and a bit chewy, the flavour was something in between liver and dirt. In fact it was the gritty texture that was the most off-putting part. I found myself thinking something along the lines of, “If worms eat dirt… and I’m eating worms… then…”. It was a bit like mussels that haven’t been properly prepared and are still sandy. I suppose the trick of soaking mussels in a bowl of water and flour to get them to expel the sand in their systems has no equivalent procedure in the world of mopane worm cookery. Still, I did manage to pawn off a few worms on other adventurous souls at the table, and I consumed more than one worm myself.


However, I did not clean my plate. On the Steve’s Weird Food scorecard, I’d have to say that mopane worms rank very very close to pig ears as the nastiest bit of “food” I’ve consumed. Even chili sauce did not help the effort much, though the onions actually did. Like the pig ears, it wasn’t the flavour that was the problem, it was the texture.

Nevertheless, we did have a reasonable meal at Ngoma Zanga, which means “my drums” (and there were drums, played for the entire meal by guys in big African masks, because the drums must never stop*). The staff were earnest with their service but remarkably incompetent. They started strong by assigning us each a number and carefully writing each order down with our numbers, but when the food arrived it was chaos. There was a lot of wandering around with plates trying to determine who ordered which particular combination of veggies and meat. And don’t get me started about when the bills arrived. Ah, too late. I think every cheque was totted up incorrectly, always in favour of the restaurant. Simple things like adding 10,000 to 69,300 would result in a total of 80,300. Sorting it all our took a comically (and tragically) long amount of time and effort.

The gang, at supper

And getting a cab back to the campsite was a whole other adventure. There were ten of us so we needed two empty cabs, end even then we were crammed in with four across the back seat. When we wandered out and flagged down a couple of cabs two stopped. This was perfect, except the first one that stopped already had two passengers, and the second had one. This turned out to be no problem because after all, it was Africa. The first driver simply ejected his two passengers and sped off with five people from our group. The poor locals who’d been kicked out then crossed the street and got in the second cab, along with the passenger who was already there.

My group of five had to wait a bit for another cab which arrived reasonably quickly and refreshingly empty. However with four of us crammed in the back seat the suspension (or something mechanical in the vicinity of the left rear tire) made alarming grinding moaning noises for the whole ride. This didn’t slow down our driver, who managed to get up to about 90 km/h by the time he hit the speed bump he forgot was there. Keep in mind that speed bumps in Africa are serious business – much higher and longer than the domestic variety. And keep in mind this was a car with questionable shock-absorption capabilities. At least our driver had a sense of humour, and we ended up laughing and joking with him after we peeled ourselves off the roof of the car.

In the end we all made it back to camp safely, and we laughed about the ride. I was just happy to have chalked up another weird food, and relieved that it looks like I might escape Africa without having to eat anything with six legs.

* That’s from a bad joke, which I will retell here only on request.


Unknown said...

I like the wierd food posting that includes the whole story of the meal adventure. (and a nice pic if Pam too).

Meanwhile, Vancouver Weather: Rain

Happy Trails...

Kathryn said...

You could give the short, pudgy bald guy a run for his money on his weird food adventures. (Andrew Zimmern)Are you gunning for your own tv show?

By the way - I was blown away by your beautiful 'tribute/send-off' to Henry at the Falls! Amazing.

Anonymous said...

I know I am in the minority here, but I was so excited to see an asterisk in this post. It's like a promise of a little extra bit at the end. Much like the special features at the end of a DVD.

Can't wait to see what you will eat in China and India!!

Steven G.

Steve said...

I knew at some point you would get worms... :)

Lisa said...

When I saw "crispy panfried **** " I knew it had to be something "exotic" like that...good on yah for being so adventurous!!!

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