African Backpacking Recipes: Mopane Worms

When I was backpacking through Botswana on my way to Etosha Pan a while ago, the lifts were few and far between, and I sometimes had to survive on my wits when it came to food. At one time, I thought eating a Mopane Worm was a bridge too far by far. But that was before a local explained it was like a chipolata sausage on legs, but only tastier.

Mopane Worms Recipe: Mopane Moth
Mopane Moth: Photo Bernard Dupont / CC 2.0

Mopane Moth and Worms

The Mopane Worm is the caterpillar of the Mopane Moth and often found on Mopane Trees. This doubles as great firewood for barbeques so you have everything to hand. The moths themselves are beauties with a wingspan of 120mm / near to 5”. So if you hear your cutlery rattling in your bag at midnight no worries, it is not the spirit of a departed ancestor.

Mopane Worms Recipe: Mopani Worm
Mopani Worm

While a Mopane Worm may not the handsomest thing you ever saw, they are easy to collect because they accumulate on the upper surface of the Mopane leaves they love nibbling. To prepare one for the pot, pinch the bottom end off with your fingers and squeeze it out just like a tube of toothpaste. You may prefer to buy your worms dried over a smoky fire by local people, because then you can prepare them right away.

Mopane Worms Recipe: Soup Stew
Mopane Soup Stew: Photo Angola Rising

Mopane Worms Recipe: My Awesome Soupy Stew

You can chew on sundried or smoked Mopane Worms like peanuts or dried beef provided your teeth are good and strong, although they are a little hard to swallow because the bits can stick like medicinal tablets as they go down. I find it a whole lot better to prepare a Mopane Worms recipe: A Soupy Stew. If you know as much as I do about African bush food you’ll always travel with fresh chillies, turmeric, salt and pepper to cover up the taste when necessary. So here’s my Mopane worms recipe.

  • Procure your worms, and while you’re about it two fresh tomatoes, one fresh onion, a clove of garlic, and a small pack of butter at a spaza shop.
  • Head out into the bush, find a dead Mopane Tree, break off some kindling, and snap a few branches into pieces.
  • Lay the fire and light it. Wipe your trusty frying pan out as best as you can and consume a glass or two of local moonshine brandy while the fire burns down.
  • Chop the onion and fry in loads of butter until transparent. Add some chopped chillies, turmeric and garlic until it looks right and stir it around.
  • Add your Mopane Worms, the diced tomatoes and some liquid if it needs it. Beer is good, the local water is okay as long as you give it a good boil.
  • Cover the pan with something and allow to simmer for 25 minutes while the liquid boils down a bit and you can push a fork right through the worms. Season to taste.

The worms have a springy texture a little like calamari. They taste a bit like dried beef and sort of like chicken too. I have learned to look forward to the acquired taste when I am hungry. Best of all, I can pick them off a tree like fruit, in which case my protein costs me nothing.

I hope you enjoyed my Mopane worms recipe. Happy cooking!

About Richard Farrell

Richard Farrell

I tripped over a shrinking bank balance and fell into the writing gig unintentionally. This was after I escaped the corporate world and searched in vain for ways to become rich on the internet by doing nothing. Despite the fact that writing is no recipe for wealth, I rather enjoy it. I will deny I am obsessed with it when I have the time.

My base is Umtentweni in South Africa on the Kwazulu-Natal South Coast (30.7167° S, 30.4667° E). I work from home where I ponder on the future of the planet, and what lies beyond in the great hereafter. Sometimes I step out of my computer into the silent riverine forests, and empty golden beaches for which the area is renowned.

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