Often when one talks of a Ugandan insect snack, the mind will quickly switch to nsenene, those green or brown locust-like winged creatures for which the Baganda used to be despised but have presently become a universal delicacy. They have a status of being sold at supermarkets, grocery stores or local markets during the season.
The spite for them is no more. Even foreign visitors enjoy nsenene,now, to the extent that those who have already been here will always ask for them on return and those who have read about them, will ask for them on arrival.
But the Ugandan insect menu is wider than nsenene. Given the many ethnicities in Uganda, there are expectations of finding out more edible insects. Research by Sunday Monitor indicates many other ethnicities have their own insect delicacies, making the Ugandan insect menu bigger than usually appreciated.
Among the Alur, Lugbara, Madi, Kakwa and Anugu in West Nile, the Jopadhola and Acholi, white ants are a delicacy with various forms of preparation ranging from roasting to boiling, and pounding into paste that is mixed with groundnut or simsim paste. The preparation may also determine the duration for which the insects may be preserved especially for consumption outside the main season.
Central Uganda or Buganda known for nsenene (grasshoppers) also enjoys the white ants, enswa . One may say, the occurrence and popularity of this delicacy has over time been waning, owing to several factors.
The white ants mostly originate from anthills but owing to urbanisation, many of these habitats for the delicious insects have been destroyed, considered an environmental hazard because the anthills also contain destructive insects, the termites which eat trees, wooden houses and other wealth.
Owing to local scarcity, the white ants are imported into central region from West Nile and Acholi. Often they will be sighted on sale in both main and makeshift markets. When the insects existed without scarcity, trapping them was no big challenge during season.
The trapper would just be required to erect bendable sticks around the anthill, converging them at the top. In the evenings when termites have made openings on the anthill, the trapper would then cover the anthill hill with either sacks, tarpaulin or grass.
The ants flying out of the mound would then lose their way out and eventually slide into a hole where a container had been prepared to tap them.
Often other unauthorized partakers, including frogs, bats and birds would also lay siege around the anthill that children would make so much fun by either lying to a colleague of the presence of these invaders or failing to alert them as such invader jumped onto someone causing panic and fright. That was one type whose season usually followed rain or came slightly before a dry spell. The Baganda called these enswa ensejjere and these were a universal type.
But there existed another type, the mbobya which usually appeared either during or immediately after a rainstorm. The source or exact origin of these ones was usually hard to pinpoint as they just either floated on water or flew around any source of light.
A third type was the ennaka. These in Buganda used to be an occurrence in the areas of the original Luwero District or what was popularly known as Bulemeezi County. It was from this ennaka tradition that the rest of the Baganda named people from Bulemeezi Abalyannaka (people who eat ennaka).
By contrast, ennaka used to be small compared to other white ants. They used to be eaten raw whereas the other types could be prepared for a dish or snack.
Trapping ennaka only took one a wait for the afternoon sunshine. According to the legend my late paternal grandmother narrated to us, the trapper would simply pick a stick and start hitting the sunbathed ground with an accompanying song “pereketya, pereketya. Pereketya mpa ku nswa (loosely translated as ‘sunshine give me white ants’). The insects would then begin flying as the trapper picked one by one putting them directly into the mouth.
Nsejjere and mbobya took some elaborate process. If after trapping them they contained some other unwanted insects that had to be carefully picked out. The ants could then be washed before either being cooked or roasted.
To be roasted, little salted water would be added on medium heat as one stirs using a wooden ladle. By the end of the process, the insects lose their wings leaving one task of winnowing the wings. Then, they are ready to be served.
To be boiled, salty water is added before putting them on fire. After boiling, they are sundried. Then you remove the wings. Then they are ready for a snack.
But for a Muganda, enswa was more than a snack. The dried lot could be pounded into flour and prepared as luwombo. When ready, this dish is eaten with matooke, cassava or any high carbohydrate food. This is aromatic and tasty.
Essami (dragon flies)
On the island sub-region of Buvuma in central region, formerly part of Mukono District, are the edible mosquito-like flies, essami. These are a delicacy here but slowly fading out among the young generations.