“Rumble in the Jungle” refers to the legendary boxing fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, which took place on November 2,1974, in Kinshasa.
I was still a little boy, but I have vivid memories of the thunderous roar of joy that, no doubt, traveled across the entire African continent when Foreman collapsed in the ring.
George Foreman’s defeat was a defining moment of my generation and one of my earliest childhood memories.
I remember watching it live with my dad and siblings on our grainy, black-and-white TV screen. It was 4 a.m. in Dakar and probably the first time I was allowed to stay up so late!
Almost exactly 40 years later, on November 1st, 2014, I arrived in Kinshasa to prepare a dinner at the Kempinski Hotel. The dinner was for delegates of the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the African Union (AU). The theme of the dinner was: “Neglected and Underutilized Species of Africa” — I was to plan my menu around indigenous African crops.
The first thing I wanted to do when I arrived was to walk around the markets of
Kinshasa. Market visits are the best way to get immersed in a culture when
Kinshasa “Marché Central,” located downtown near the zoo and botanical garden
Jardin Zoologique, is the largest market in the country.
As expected, it is a crowded, lively, and colorful place, with stalls full of the most-unusual ingredients. The narrow market alleys are replete with all sorts of fruits
and vegetables; fresh, smoked, or dried fish from the Congo River; game meats
from the equatorial forest; offals; goat heads; live turtles; and of course many
varieties of insects that are displayed in large straw baskets that are full of wriggling tree worms as thick as one’s thumb and grasshoppers and termites!
Although I came here to prepare a dinner, I was most excited to get a chance to
experience insects, prepared the Congolese way.
Insects, as it stands, are our future source of protein. One grasshopper contains approximately 6 grams of protein. Insects are safe to eat, have a huge reproduction rate, and are therefore more sustainable than beef, which require a lot of water and fodder before reaching a slaughtering age.
Soon enough, with the fast-growing world population, steaks or chicken will
become a luxury for most. And as it turns out, the Congolese diet may offer answers to
the challenges of future world nutrition.
Indeed, the sooner we overcome our repulsion for an insect-based diet, the better off will our planet be.
That evening, I was invited for dinner at a local restaurant. On the menu, among
other things, were grasshoppers, tree worms, and roasted termites (pictures above).
I arrived early, and my gracious host, Congolese restaurateur Marie Laure Yaone,
took the time to teach me the proper way to clean grasshoppers: first squeeze
the tail between your thumb and index to extract the excrement, then cut the
wings and legs off, before soaking it in cold water prior to cooking.
Once the insects are all cleaned, Yaone pats the grasshoppers dry with a towel before frying
There are many different ways to enjoy grasshoppers: that evening, they were served with a side of cassava-like foufou, steamed in banana leaves with a groundnuts sauce (Moambe style).
For dinner, Yaone also served Liboke Ya Mbika, a delicious Congolese
specialty, consisting of a mixture of ground pumpkin seeds, ginger, chicken, and
chili, also cooked papillote-style, wrapped in banana leaves.
While on my way to catch the sunset, from a dugout boat on the Congo river, I
stumbled upon my new favorite snack, termites. They were
served on styrofoam plates, simply roasted and accompanied with thinly sliced
raw onions and chopped red hot pepper.
Termites are flavorful and crunchy, like potato chips, yet much more nutritious as they are full of protein and low in fat. They are quite fun to eat and pair wonderfully well with the popular local beer, Primus.
It goes without a doubt that termites will one day become the next IT food.
Here is a recipe using grasshoppers:
Spicy Grasshoppers Sautéed with Ginger and Herbs
2 tbs. vegetable oil
1 lb. cleaned grasshopper
1/2 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbsp. ginger
1 c. chopped tomato
1 scotch bonnet pepper, deseeded, chopped
1 tbsp. cilantro, chopped
1 tbsp. basil, julienne
Salt to taste!
1. In a large sauté pan, heat the oil to medium high. Add the grasshoppers in
batches without crowding the pan. Sauté until crisp and brown; set aside in a plate
and continue until all the grasshoppers are cooked.
2. In the same pan, at medium heat, add the onions and stir until soft but not brown.
Add garlic and ginger and cook for 3 minutes.
3. Add the tomato, stir and cook until the tomato reduces and the mixture is
compact, approximately 5 minutes. Add the scotch bonnet and return the sautéed
grasshopper in to the pan along with the herbs, mix well and season with salt.
4. Squeeze a few drops of lime over it before serving.
You can enjoy as a snack, a topping on green plantain chips, or as a side, served
with foufou or rice!