Could I summon the resolve to eat a grasshopper?
That was the question.
It's certainly a good idea to think about eating insects. Food specialists would like people around the world to think about eating insects — an excellent source of protein.
Not everyone is a fan of the idea, for the obvious reasons.
But in northeastern Nigeria, deep-fried grasshoppers, spiced with powdered chili, are a local favorite.
Ado Garba told me that he loves eating grasshoppers. I could tell, admiringly, that he is a hopper connoisseur.
"Of course, I eat grasshoppers, it's one of my favorite foods," says Garba as he expertly whips off the legs of the fried insect, opens his mouth wide and promptly goes into crunch and munch mode, licking his lips at the end, with a big, satisfied smile.
"I've been eating grasshoppers for almost 20 years," he tells me proudly. "Once it's well-cooked, you taste the onion, salt, pepper and curry powder and other ingredients."
As a school boy, Garba would go grasshopper hunting near his village in northeastern Borno state, not far from Maiduguri. So he's familiar with the insects and has been a keen eater for a long time.
He's standing in front of Margaret Joseph's deep-fried grasshopper joint at a market stall in Maiduguri, the regional metropolis, and makes his order. Joseph has been selling at her snack stall for five years.
The large metal tray is now only half-covered in hoppers. Buyers like Garba, a former government worker, patronize her stall. "Immediately I come to the area where they are selling grasshoppers, I will not turn my back," he says. "I have to buy it and continue chewing it small, small (little by little) and wrap the remaining one to my house."
"What is good in fried grasshopper," he adds, "is if you eat grasshopper, you will feel very healthy, like somebody who exercises. It gives me energy. It gives me stamina. In fact, once we taste it, we recommend to other people to attract them, they will come and buy it.
Certainly the crowds that hover around Joseph's stall are enthusiastic eaters. I decided to try them, so I tasted my first hoppers – and, in short order, acquired quite a taste for them.
Market hopper seller, Joseph, her mother Regina and some friends are chatting and start chortling merrily as I prepare to gobble my first grasshopper. I ask Joseph whether I toss it into my mouth in one go, since I lack the finesse and expertise of Ado Garba.
"It's good for you, and it tastes good," Joseph says.
Then it's time to taste. One, two, three — I count down, amid more giggling and then in it goes. The deep-fried grasshopper is tasty and crunchy. Really crunchy. And the local custom is to dip them into a hot chili powder before throwing them into your mouth. I try a few more that are more chewy, but in the end preferred the crunchy hoppers.
My editor wanted to know if they had a "buggy" taste. I don't know what a buggy taste is. To me, the hopper tasted a bit like a crunchy prawn, eaten with its shell.
Young men who catch hoppers and locusts are praised by the local community. The hunters search for grasshoppers and voracious locusts that could otherwise become a nuisance, even a menace, gobbling up farmers' crops. I'm told that instead of reporting an infestation or invasion to the authorities, villagers send word to the men who go grasshopper hunting deep into the night, catching the insects.
And their catch means a delicious snack the next day for the likes of Ado Garba. Joseph sells him a smallish plastic bowl full of grasshoppers for the equivalent of about two dollars. He says the hoppers used to cost next to nothing when he was a boy and even as an adult, but that the price keeps going up. Joseph reckons she makes about a 30 percent profit on a good day.
Tossing another chili-dipped fried hopper into his mouth, Ado Garba says they're certainly worth the price. He wraps up the rest to take home to share with his children.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
This may not be your usual breakfast, but care for some chili-fried grasshopper? Why, yes, it's a crunchy popular snack in parts of northeastern Nigeria, as NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: This is going to be a first for me. Grasshoppers are a delicacy in this part of Nigeria, in Maiduguri. And they look pretty good, so I'm going to give it a try. Madam, what's your name, please?
MARGARET JOSEPH: My name is Margaret Joseph.
QUIST-ARCTON: Margaret Joseph.
QUIST-ARCTON: Margaret, tell me about grasshoppers. Tell me more.
JOSEPH: Grasshopper is good in body.
QUIST-ARCTON: How does it taste?
JOSEPH: Like meat (laughter).
QUIST-ARCTON: It tastes like meat.
QUIST-ARCTON: So may I taste one please? So you're dipping the fried grasshopper into pepper...
QUIST-ARCTON: ...A chili powder.
QUIST-ARCTON: And then?
JOSEPH: And then you eat it.
QUIST-ARCTON: All right. Do I put it all into my mouth?
QUIST-ARCTON: Are you going to eat one with me? You grab one...
JOSEPH: OK (laughter).
QUIST-ARCTON: ...Too. Ready? One, two, three.
QUIST-ARCTON: Very crunchy, a bit as if you were eating a prawn - but the entire prawn, including the shell. I could get a taste for grasshoppers.
And that's the way I got to eat my first-ever grasshopper. Market hopper seller Margaret Joseph, her mother Regina and some friends are chatting in a Maiduguri market in front of a large, metal tray now half-full of deep-fried grasshoppers. Joseph says she buys and fries, and consumers have been chomping on the hopper snacks all day.
ADO GARBA: Of course, I eat.
QUIST-ARCTON: So Mr. Ado Garba has selected his grasshopper. He sort of whipped off the legs, and he's into munch mode, crunch mode.
GARBA: I've been eating this grasshopper for almost 20 years. It's one of my favorite foods.
QUIST-ARCTON: But there's more to it than simply a snack. Hopper - and especially locust catchers - are seen as a blessing by the local communities. They hunt the locusts that could otherwise become a nuisance, even a menace, gobbling up farmers' crops. Margaret Joseph sells Garba a plastic bowl-full of fried grasshoppers at the equivalent of about $2. She says she makes about a 30-percent profit on a good day.
JOSEPH: It's sweet.
QUIST-ARCTON: It's sweet.
JOSEPH: Yeah, it's really sweet.
QUIST-ARCTON: It is sweet. So what's your advice to people who've never tasted grasshopper? What do you think?
JOSEPH: The people who never eat grasshopper, if you're hungry, eat it. Then I'll give you - let you taste it.
QUIST-ARCTON: So that's an open invitation from Margaret Joseph.
QUIST-ARCTON: Come to Maiduguri. Come to her grasshopper stall. And come and chomp on fried grasshopper and chili. You're most welcome. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, at a grasshopper snack joint, Maiduguri.
(SOUNDBITE OF IKEBE SHAKEDOWN'S "PEPPER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.