Bugs and Checkers

I am about to start a training session on day-to-day management of a cricket farm and I get a call.

Boss…am around.

Who is this?

Deno. Denoo from China. We met in Beijing!

Denoo has landed. Denoo, the one who dons a checkered shirt and has a friend who dons a checkered shirt in a foreign city and eats dry-fry and waru in Beijing. He has been a graduate student in Wuhan, a university in a humid part of the globe. It’s like one big sauna during summer. You never dry up after a shower no matter how efficient your wipe towel is. He studied genetics and tells me he wants to make genetically modified crickets! I am still considering his request to accommodate him in my lab somewhere in a cool silent corner as he hone’s his idea and develops his love for edible insects. And maybe…just maybe…he can be an insectivore like most of us in the lab. With him around, we might strike a kill and be famous. After all.

We are at Checkers inn, Hurlingham. Seated at a reasonably quiet section of the lounge at the far end of the reception. I have a backpack on my side because I just landed from Kakuma Refugee camp on one of those United Nation flights. Landing at Wilson is a different experience from Landing at JKIA. Nairobi is beautiful from the Wilson skies unlike the dreary dry terrain over JKIA flight path. I was on a Danish Church Aid mission to establish a cricket farm in Kakuma refugee camp. Cool ha! Affordable proteins for all in service to humanity. One of those things you do as a duty to put a smile on a less privileged face. Truth is, very few of us reading this, right this moment will ever know how it feels to walk hundreds of miles in search for peace and safety, running away from the ghosts of war, away from the place you call home. And somehow finding yourself in a camp that a friendly government set aside to help your like, and you are expected to continue living…but that’s a story for tomorrow.

Denoo has a story and that’s why we are at Checkers. He knows I write about edible insects. He reads my blogs and comments sometimes. He had a bug eating moment a few weeks after landing in China. An experience he wanted to share while it’s still hot. Before he fades into the helter skelter of Nairobi city and genetics manenos. I arrive at checkers minutes before him and got to choose a vantage view to see him walk in. Hopefully in a checkered shirt. I call him and he responds in the usual nafika tu saa hii (am just about to arrive) vibe. A vibe that every Nairobian has mastered not matter how many miles away they are. Luckily, Denoo walks in few minutes later in a broad learned smile and sits across the table. He looks learned this one, especially after being in China for years. He has grown a beard too. He might land a position at join #teambeard.

I hope you had a good flight,! mæn

Yeah, not a problem. Am I not glad to be home!

I hope you’ve had a few local warus, dry fry and a cold tusker.

Will you have a drink?

Before he could answer I ordered a cold tusker but he declined. China has changed this guy…for the better I hope. But how could he refuse a drink from an ol’ fren! He tells me he no longer drinks. He is a teetotaler now.

We get to the business of the day. And he tells the story amidst disruptions from the waiters who were too eager to attend us.

He had spent the whole day climbing a mountain in the south of China, Yunnan province, in search of flora. They were searching for a genetic marker for resilience in some mountain vegetation.  Something revolutional. Something TiBIM! Spending a whole day up there wasn’t a walk in the park and it made him amend some info in his resume about nature walk as a hobby after realizing that it could be a torture as well.

At this point he mentions that the only content in his gut was ‘baozi’ and ‘jiaozi’ which I gather is some white fermented relish. So I imagine a guy who likes waru and dry fry, eating fermented white stuff! It must taste awful but I dint tell him though he seemed repulsed already.  Later he explains that baozi is a steamed bun while jiazi is dumpling and he hated them both. Basically he was famished by the time they got to the eatery. I tried dumpling in Beijing and mæn …they are quite something! It’s one of those things that require you to master all the physics of chewing and swallowing if you are to enjoy them. It’s served as a special Chinese food on some festival and all households have to serve it for dinner. A dumpling day.

Their guide had already placed an order, and so within seconds, the table was set with all manner of dishes. All. You should have seen the way he said the word ‘all’. The way you say a word with your hand raised just above your shoulders and the forehead raised and the word is more of a shriek.

Before him was fried banana stem and toasted beetle Larva. Aaarrghhhhhhh!! Ptuuuh! He would rather die than resign to this fate!! But on the other hand, curiosity was taking care of his fears. They looked delicious. The banana stems, he could try but the larvae…hell no!

His professor basically attacked the delicacy to his disgust! He had to try otherwise the professor would feel he wasted lab money on his plate.

Denoo, what was going through your mind at that point?

At that point I remembered Dr. Kinyuru and his miserable blog. Joyce the gastronomist at his lab and I thought I needed a story of my life too.

My blog made you eat?

 Well, I imagined I needed to encourage you somehow. I had to do it using you as my benchmark. And true to your blog’s enticing sweet confusing words, they tasted great and crunchy.

He got the recipe and we will try it at the kitchen in our lab. We have lot’s of those larvae. They burrow in dung. One only needs to gut and clean. They are quite fatty the method of cooking better avoid too much oil.

What is one thing you learned from that experience?

Despite my earlier and later fears of having a running stomach, this marked my realization that our cultures hold back the fight against malnutrition and famine in Kenya. One can overcome their worst fears if confronted by hard truths though sometimes a little motivation will help.

 I am looking for people with a bug story/experience. Inbox me on insecthunter@gmail.com.


10 thoughts on “Bugs and Checkers

  1. BUGS or Milk

    “Hello Muhoho..!”a call from Gerade my course mate interrupts my sleep, at this hour I would only expect a call from my nagging Bae. Judging on his character I easily predicted that it had to be about something academic, and true to my guess it was. “ile assignment ya Kinyuru ya insects ni blog gani” he proceeded even before extending greetings, or even enquiring about my day . I liked the question as it made me feel important, to our class Gerade is always the good student finishing assignments even before we start the unit and studying 24/7. This time we had missed a class together, probably his first class since first year and we were given the same assignment. My answer was short, “sikumbuki”, and he immediately hugged up.

    “ohh bugs!..now I remember”, when you mention the word bug to a student, two things will defiantly click in their mind, either the laptop carrier or the micro-terrorists called bedbugs alias micro-comrades. Even before referring to the blog, I started thinking about Dr Kinyuru, a self proclaimed insect enthusiast and the source of his undying interest in the use of insects as food. Sharing the same traditional background, I was sure that not even his ancestors ever tasted insects, and probably the closest they ever got to was eating honey from bees.

    From the science perspective, insects have the greatest potential to supply the much needed proteins for both human and livestock. As opposed to other protein sources insects grow fast, are cheaper, are tastier and have higher protein content. I wrote while talking loudly, my roommate whom I presumed was asleep, posed a rather unexpected question, probably amused by my scientific praise of insects. He asked “tuseme nimekuekea glass ya maziwa na sahani moja ya crickets, uchague moja. Utachagua nini?, I immediately answered contrary to his expectations, choosing to betray myself to save science.

    It is here I realized that eating insects is easier said than done. I decided to engage my mind, on how insect food can be made more appealing or rather how to make one choose ugali and mosquito soup against ugali and chicken in a local hotel. To pursue this I had to exercise total restrain from the increased political temperatures, for instance someone had posted a question “why do kiambu women have three body parts like insects?”, funny as it may sound I choose to “stand with insects”. And show how insect can be made more appealing as food.

    To start with, is cooking. you have probably heard people commenting differently on the taste of omena, a popular type of dried fish. Some say they are bitter, smelly when cooked, while others are simply uncomfortable eating while the fish is looking at them. But for a fact omena is delicious when cooked with precision. Some luos believe that if you mix omena with other ingredients then add excess water that result to a poplar concussion better known as “mashakula”, the fish will actually resurrect. true to insects, they will taste better when cooked using the right procedures.

    Secondly, value addition plays a vital role, am sure you have probably met a friend who does not take pork but is always eating sausages. This scenario has propelled , Dr Kinyuru the entomologist behind JKUAT crickets project to come up with different cricket products, such as cakes, biscuits etc. by making this products, many like myself who cannot stand eating anything that looks like insects will be enticed to taste and probably evolve to insect eaters.

    Information is key. Sensitization plays an important role in changing people’s perception and driving them toward appreciating insects as food.

    With enthusiasm shared by the likes of Dr Kinyuru, learning institutions like JKUAT and recruitment of young scholars like myself to the call. Feasting insects in Kenya will be a norm. open your eyes wide, catch a mosquito, grasshopper or a fly, then close your eyes and swallow it, then imaging if it was cooked…………..

  2. Insects yes are considered highly nutritional; the majority of them are rich in essential proteins, healthy fats, iron, calcium and low in carbohydrates. From the sited example portrayed by Denno eating behavior, it dictates clearly we are strongly attached to our normal culture of previously introduced typed of food. Then, someone can ask himself or herself why eat an insect? Yes it is true to an extend that eating an insect definitely relies best on the need of food demand, indeed insects are everywhere meaning they are a very accessible, cheap source of food- a fact that could really benefit low and middle-income countries where malnutrition is common. The truth of the matter that insects are edible depends on the way presented or served. Roasted insects like bugs served on a plate will definitely led to a lot of speculations to the new eaters as well naively. This fear can only be scrubbed from the new eater’s thoughts through a little exposure or adventure on western culture of eating insects or visit selected few experts nutritionist like Doctor Kinyuru on comprehensive cricket eating habits and their importance. But to improve insects consumption rate as a dietary source of nutrients, there must be possible alternatives way of presenting them in foods like fortification of flour both for ugali, bread, biscuits and even porridge flour which is essentially to young kids. In fact, researchers claim insects eating is less harmful than eating meat; insects pose a much lower risk of infecting humans with zoonotic diseases than livestock, though it is recommended that insects be cooked prior to consumption to destroy harmful pathogens they may be carrying. Many Africans associate this habits of insects eating has an indigenous behavior bestowed on hunters and gatherers. To an extend this is a true fact to Kenyan communities like Turkana and Pokot on eating of `kumbekumbe` termites and ants due to presents of many anthills in their geographical areas which is a clear ready basket of bumper harvest of insects from such sources. With the alarming growing population in the country there must be need to venture and invest on this sector has a food security policy in the country, in order to mitigate the arising depletion and unnecessary competition on one particular source nutrient like proteins between human and animals like on fish. For instance, I appreciate the efforts made by JKUAT Food Science department through the initiative of Dr. Kinyuru by starting the establishment of cricket farm for protein supplementation in foods like biscuits and bread. This is a good prowess indeed but, a lot of efforts campaigns are needed in all corners of African countries to start farms for rearing different species of insects and also need on learning the importance’s of such insects in our human diet supplementation of essential nutrients at all. Climate change has contribute also on scarcity of food which has led to famine and extreme droughts on different parts of the world leading to no food to the entire population, death of many food animals and plants, as well malnutrition and death to many people. On this approach on diverse eating of insects people will appreciate the free resource available within our environment rather than dependence on one source of food.

  3. Bugs bugs bugs… not bed bugs as most of us think of this thing that “bugs” like campus life has taught us. Can you imagine your self eating a bug? To me the common name bug is associated with nuisance but this time bugs I refer to them as food. Bugs are part of some African delicacies in the traditional setup. The Bayaka community in West Africa eat bugs like nobody’s business. They are served best toasted like marshmallows and described to have a caviar taste. So imagine how expensive caviar is but now you have a lee way when you eat bugs. An expensive taste all for free per say all you have to do is to look for them in tree barks and dung. But how disturbing is it when you eat it whole without eviscerating it. Imagine the strange taste of the gastro intestinal content outpouring in your mouth. Yaks is the word that can describe best this taste. This now puts me of when I think of eating bugs. I don’t know if the same concept will work for bedbugs. Like I was thinking why not roast tick and obtain mutura especially for the boophilus which is big in size. If I was to open a restaurant I think I will have crazy thing on my menu thanks to Dr.Kinyuru. Imagine a menu made of spiders, bugs, ticks among others, mind blowing it is.
    I think for me I would have done like Denno who happens be my namesake. Mimi kwanza ningefunga macho nakuanticipate the taste ya hizo bugs. By the way Deno should tell us with what do you accompany bugs with cause the only thing that comes in my mind is ugali ama rayo. In Africa we are accustomed to our meal comprising of high starch and satisfaction is attained when your stomach cannot stomach anymore food. I remember my childhood you eat until you feel pain then you stop eating. I was telling my friends the other day that we eat to enjoy food not to get satisfied, now I walked away with a new alias “mzungu mweusi”.
    This reminds me of my childhood experience with guavas. We would scale up a tree for the biggest and most yellow mapera which happened to be highest in the tree. The problem is not climbing the tree but the experience you have when you eat the guava with gluttony and then you realize you have eaten a caterpillar. This is the time you can puke your intestines. Am sure if I tell my grand ma of eating bugs she will kemea me for eating bird’s food.
    The other day I was listening to Yemi Alade ft. Sauti soul melodic song “everywhere you go London USA……nowhere like Africa no place like home….” Then I came to think of Denno who am sure is a big fan of it attributed to his ordeal of the range of food imaginable compared to the waru norm. What I might say makes us Africans cherish home is the strange and weird foods served abroad think we should join Denno in singing this catchy tune.

    1. Yak! Ptuuuh …that strange taste of…gastrointestinal content outpouring your mouth,..really??? You are killing my morale. I don’t think its that much or that disgusting you make it look. Tihihi! “Mutura ya thick” I wonder how that would taste. Not just in mapera did I accidentally eat wadudu but also in tomatoes coz I would eat some while chopping them for cooking. Sometimes you are just walking making a call taking with friends or just laughing, then all of a sudden you just hear…zzz.zzzz zz…by the time you realize “iko ndani ndani” Nzi …you cough,you vomit but ngo!

  4. waoooh! mohoho l like the way you are putting things in your own style..i can see you have good realationship with your classmate Gereland the smart guy.i agree with you it would be better if we trick people if we use other products such as biscuit but when the insects is the major ingredient.This would be easiest way to change their perception.The conflicts will come when you will review to them what it is so it is better when shut up to yourself.

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