Cameroon’s forest tribes have long depended on insects to supplement their diets. The palm weevil grub, a fat worm found in palm trees, is such a popular source of protein that it has squirmed out of the forests and onto the plates at popular restaurants.
In Cameroon’s capital, some unusual ingredients are wiggling into city kitchens.
At Le Cercle Municipal restaurant, Chef Emile Engoulou cooks palm weevil grubs to create dishes of international standard.
Engoulou says they are the best protein that exist and they have not even finished making an inventory of all the benefits they obtain by eating the palm tree worms.
For people used to eating meat and fish, finding worms on their dinner plate can be a shock.
But the palm weevil grub can also be a pleasant surprise for many consumers like Paul Ndom.
He says the service is very well done, the dish well prepared and they are enjoying it. He says he hadn’t seen this way of cooking yet, but that it is great.
The high demand from chefs has led to a shortage of palm weevil grubs.
Villagers like Valentin Bidja, who used to gather the grubs in the forest, see it as an opportunity for people in rural areas.
Bidja says when they raise worms in the village, it is less stressful and more profitable and that in the village, they spend less energy.
The growing popularity of the grub in Cameroon, Chef Engoulou says, has made it several times more expensive than beef.
“When we do gastronomy in Cameroon, we need authentic, natural, organic and precious ingredients. I often like to say that the palm tree worm is the equivalent in Africa of caviar in Europe,” he said.
People already eat palm weevil in other African countries and in South America and Southeast Asia. Only time will tell if it climbs onto menus in Europe and beyond.