Congo residents delight in rare insect delicacy

02:48 a.m. Nov 20, 1998 Eastern

By Todd Pitman

GOMA, Congo, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Twice per year when the moon is out and the season is right, residents of this town in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo come out into the night in search of an airborne culinary delicacy.

Evening streets usually devoid of life are clogged with residents working furiously to trap swarms of black eyed, bright green grasshoppers on a bi-annual migration through town.

Most capture the insects -- known locally as Senene -- by hand as they hover around bright lights and stuff them frantically into plastic bags, jerry-cans and beer bottles.

This week in Goma hoards of people could be seen after nightfall in the middle of town hunting down the migrating grasshoppers, both to eat and to sell.

``It's serious out there,'' said 40-year-old Kitenge Nyembo, a hotel clerk himself packing a giant aspirin bottle brimming with insects.

``In Virunga (quarter) some people are out on watch until midnight. Some people stay out until the sun comes up,'' Nyembo said after diligently plucking a few dozen grasshoppers from a hotel balcony.

Many residents, so caught up in the hunt, often ignore oncoming vehicles on main roads, moving only when car horns break their concentration.

Residents say the insects, which resemble green shrimps with wings and long legs, pass through town in the thousands for about a week during the rainy season in November or December, and again in June. Days of heavy rain are often followed by the their arrival at night.

``I love them,'' said Balthazar, a night watchman with a plastic bag of live grasshoppers stuffed in his trenchcoat. ``They're good for health, ...and they've got protein.''

Nyembo said he would take his cache of grasshoppers back home to cook the next day and eat with his family.

``You take the wings and arms and legs off, grill the bodies in oil and add a little salt,'' he said. ``They taste great.''

Dealers say a beer bottle full of live grasshoppers sells for around 250,000 New Zaires, or a little less than one dollar, while a full bag can fetch as much as a million New Zaires.

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