KAMPALA, Uganda – Children scamper in the bush, jumping here and there to catch grasshoppers before they fly away. On a good day, many will walk away with plastic bags filled with the insects to fry and eat as a snack.
Grasshoppers, known in the local Luganda language as "nsenene," are a delicacy among many in this East African country who look forward to this time of year, when millions of the bugs hatch with the seasonal rains. People say jokingly there will be damnation if the grasshopper season comes and goes without tasting the bugs.
"These nsenene, I'm buying them because my wife has sent me to buy them for her," said O.J. Gerald at a roadside seller in the capital, Kampala. "She really loves them. You fry with some onion and a little bit of salt and it's very tasty. Very crunchy in your mouth."
The grasshoppers, when fried, turn from green to golden brown and give off an earthy aroma beloved by enthusiasts.
Grasshopper hunting has become a commercial activity in Uganda. Some rig bright lamps to attract the insects, which then crash into strategically placed sheets and slide into barrels where they are trapped overnight.
Hundreds of grasshopper traps can be seen across Kampala, often in violation of the city's safety rules as the installations can lead to potentially dangerous short circuits. The insects are in season from November until January, when the country usually gets heavy rains, and again in April and May.
Street vendors do brisk business, selling half-kilogram (1 pound) plastic mugs of ready-to-eat grasshoppers for about $2.75.
To prepare them, the wings, legs and antennae are plucked off while the insects are still alive.
Cooked grasshoppers have high amounts of protein and fat, as well as significant amounts of dietary fiber, said Geoffrey Ssepuuya, a Ugandan nutritionist researching grasshoppers as part of his doctorate studies at the University of Leuven in Belgium.
"Grasshoppers are very nutritious," he said. "They are actually richer in comparison to conventional sources of protein."
At a busy market stall in Kampala, Sylvia Namwanje fries the insects with oil, onions and garlic, creating a distinctive scent that can be smelled meters away. Motorists park their SUVs and wait to be served. Ugandans from abroad who crave grasshoppers are among her clients.
"The nsenene are so delicious," Namwanje said. "They are only in season at certain times of the year. People will eat them because they know that's the only period they can eat the nsenene. It's way more delicious than chicken, or any meat for that matter."
Namwanje said the seasonal trade in grasshoppers is an important part of her yearly income.
"With my earnings I have managed to educate my children, take care of my mother and family," she said proudly.
Associated Press journalist Adelle Kalakouti contributed to this report.