Waiter, there’s a bug in my food . . .

Chef Mario Barnard sprinkles mopane worm spices on freshly made popcorn at the Insect Experience pop-up Restaurant in Cape Town
Chef Mario Barnard sprinkles mopane worm spices on freshly made popcorn at the Insect Experience pop-up Restaurant in Cape Town
Image: HISHAM Photographs: REUTERS/SUMAYA

South African chef Mario Barnard said he was grossed out and did not entirely enjoy eating grilled scorpions and crunchy insects mixed with garlic and spices on a trip to Thailand four years ago.

But the experience inspired Barnard to start experimenting with insect-based meals and in July he opened a pop-up restaurant in Cape Town’s trendy Woodstock suburb that only serves bug meals.

Insect Experience is the first restaurant in SA to serve insectonly meals, Barnard said, though these kind of meals have proven increasingly popular in various countries around the world.

Barnard has teamed up with local start-up Gourmet Grubb, who turn black soldier fly larvae into protein powder and milk, which can be used to make insect-based ice cream.

“A couple of months ago, I met Gourmet Grubb’s Jean [Louwrens] and Leah [Bessa]and they’ve got the same problem as me, where we don’t like the insect as it is in its whole form, so we decided to do it in a powder form and make gourmet dishes,” Barnard said at the pop-up restaurant.

Adventurous customers can try small bowls of insects, including mealworms, as well as larger dried mopane worms, which are considered a delicacy in some African countries.

“People are looking for new things to do and it’s been going well,” Barnard said, adding that his pop-up restaurant would remain open until November – well beyond the original closure date – after launching in July.

Diners at Insect Experience can also tuck into mopane polenta fries with tomato chilli chutney or black soldier fly butternut ravioli with roasted chilli garlic sauce, both reasonably priced at R50 a meal.

The ravioli is made from a mix of about 50% insect powder and flour, said Barnard, as he waited for a new batch of termites and crickets to arrive.

“It’s good for the environment and it’s the food of the future,” he said, adding they looked to expand their range into bug beer, biscuits and even dog food.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation has said insects emit fewer greenhouse gases and less ammonia than cattle or pigs, require much less land and water, and that there are more than 1,900 edible insect species.

Scientists have touted insect-based food as a sustainable and cheap food high in protein, fibre and minerals. 

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