If you’ve read your Kipling, you’ll know of the great, green, greasy Limpopo river, all set about with fever trees. But there’s a great deal more to this northerly region of South Africa than even The Elephant’s Child might suspect… Originally named The Northern Transvaal, Limpopo (a Sepedi word that translates to ‘strong, gushing waterfalls’) is very rural, very poor, and very beautiful.
It’s a favourite with visitors, thanks to its abundant wildlife and spectacular scenery.
For locals, it’s less of a destination and more of an existence: mining is a popular profession, while subsistence agriculture is the norm. But the fare is, nevertheless, delectable, diverse and very different…
Rustic delicacies that might shock the western palate are ordinary here. Mopani worms, a favourite across the whole region, are an excellent source of protein, iron, calcium and phosphorus. Locals tend to prefer their caterpillars dried (though they can also appear cooked, boiled or fried), and enjoy the crunchy, salty and apparently satisfyingly fleshiness of this unusual snack!
Still on the insectile side of the menu, we also get termites, harvested in a most unusual manner! Traditionally, Limpopo locals dip a stem of dried grass into a termite mound to act as both bait and rod, and the insects climb out of their own accord. The resulting catch is then either turned into a relish to be enjoyed alongside pap, or roasted up as a fat-rich treat!
Poorer households tend to survive on basic foodstuffs, including pap, peanuts and beans. If there’s meat, it’s most likely to be of the by-product type: chicken feet, cow heels, giblets and tripe – unusual textures perhaps best washed down with a strong glass of umqombothi. A traditional home-brewed maize beer served in a clay pot, umqombothi is said to be both sour and creamy; certainly not a commercial beer but definitely a palate cleanser!
While the usual fast-food franchises do exist in Limpopo, there’s enough strange and wonderful fare to satisfy even the most insatiably curious. Should you find yourself, in Limpopo, Oh Best Beloved, learn from the locals!