CAPE TOWN, Sept 3 (Reuters) - South African chef Mario Barnard said he was "grossed out" and did not entirely enjoy eating grilled scorpions and crunchy insects mixed with garlic and spices on a trip to Thailand four years ago.
But 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.
"A couple of months ago I met Jean and Leah (of Gourmet Grubb) and they've got the same problem as me, where we don't like the insect as it is in its whole form, so we decided to do it in a powder form and make gourmet dishes," 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.
"People are looking for new things to do and it's been going well," Barnard said, adding 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 rand ($3.28) a meal.
The ravioli is made from a mix of around 50 percent insect powder and flour, said Barnard, as he waited for a new batch of termites and crickets to arrive.
"It's good for the environment 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 a sustainable and cheap food that is high in protein, fibre and minerals.
"I've never eaten insects before. It didn't taste like insect," said one satisfied customer at Insect Experience, Angelo Caralse. "It tasted like croquettes, it tasted like potatoes and chickpea with a slightly nutty, spicy flavour. I enjoyed it."
($1 = 15.2369 rand) (Reporting by Wendell Roelf and Sumaya Hishaam Editing by Gareth Jones)
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