The caterpillars, known as mbinzo, appear on a particular tree – so, every village makes sure that plenty of these trees are planted. The mbinzo season is also a time for lots of outings with baskets and plastic tubs to carry them from the forest. Everybody eats them, but it’s usually women and children who collect them. They are black, or brown, with big red eyes.
If you come to a mbinzo tree, you would see it absolutely teaming with caterpillars – and locals can spot them at quite a distance.
"I’ve got to be honest and say that they are not my favourite food. For parents struggling to feed their children, though, they are an absolute Godsend."
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Recipe: Caterpillars with peanut sauce
Mbinzo (several handfuls);
palm oil (3 tablespoons);
hot peppers (to your taste);
peanuts (1 cup);
aubergine and onion (optional).
- Wash the caterpillars with fresh water and leave in the sun to dry, make sure they don’t wriggle away!
- Grind the peanuts in a pestle and mortar.
- Fry in palm oil adding the salt, ground peanuts and other ingredients as you fry. Drain surplus oil and serve.
- Serve with green vegetables.
I eat caterpillars when they are in season. I’ve got to be honest and say that they are not my favourite food. For parents struggling to feed their children, though, they are an absolute Godsend. First of all, they are free, and easy to collect, (if you have a head for heights because someone has to climb the tree). Secondly, they are very high in protein – the cassava that is normally eaten has no protein in it at all. And thirdly, the children go out and collect the caterpillars themselves – so it’s a win-win situation!
The caterpillars appear in August at the end of the hungry months that I mentioned last month. It is before most harvests and at a time when fish and bush-meat is scarce – that’s why we see so many malnourished children coming to my supplementary feeding centre at this time of year. Eating caterpillars might make us feel uncomfortable – but, for many children, it saves their lives.