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South African Restaurant Town Serves Insect-Only Meals

When South African chef Mario Barnard visited Thailand four years ago he was "grossed out" and did not entirely enjoy eating grilled scorpions and crunchy insects mixed with garlic and spices.

However, 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 South Africa to serve insect-only meals, Barnard said, though they 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.

"The insects have a very specific diet in order to...cause essentially whatever they eat, they will get the taste from whatever they eat. So if it's compost, they will get this rotten vegetable taste, so that's why they have a very specific diet and we have somebody farming it for us."

Barnard told Reuters at the pop-up restaurant.

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

Barnard adds 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 50 rands (N1,216.33) a meal.

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

"As global population grows, as agricultural land becomes less, the more people we have. So it takes very little small land and very little water to make a lot of insects. So obviously it's good for the environment and also we trying to stay clear of animal cruelty and yeah - 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 Organization 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 sustainable and cheap food that is high in protein, fibre and minerals.

According to Angelo Caralse, one satisfied customer at Insect Experience, the insect-based food tasted, unlike insects.

"I've never eaten insects before. It didn't taste like an insect. It tasted like croquettes, it tasted like potatoes and chickpea with a slightly nutty, spicy flavour. I enjoyed it."

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