Nature Notes – Omajova

Journey into the Past – Herero
August 28, 2012
Otjiwarongo – Cheetahs, Vultures and Dinosaurs
August 28, 2012

Ephemeral…elusive… edible…

by Amy Schoeman

Two highly sought-after forms of edible fungi found in Namibia are omajowa (singular ejowa), the Herero name for the large fleshy mushrooms that ap-pear at the foot of termite hills shortly after the February rains, and the elusive Kalahari truffle found in the sandy eastern regions of the country.

The scientific name of anthill mushrooms, Termitomyces schimperi, refers to the termite or white ant, Macrotermes mossambicus, which builds the anthills, plants the spores and feeds on the mushrooms. With their tops characteristically pointing northwards, anthills are found north of the Swakop River more or less all the way up to the northern border. When picking the mushrooms it is important to leave one or two behind for the termites, to ensure that they grow again the following year.

The most surprising aspect of anthill mushrooms is their enormous size. In diameter they are 25 cm or more – virtually the size of a large frying pan – they have substantial stem-like roots up to 50 cm long and they weigh up to one kilogram. They can be fried in butter, made into soup or dried for later use, especially in stews. They taste a little like meat, possibly veal, especially when fried on an open fire. Animals are fond of them, particularly cattle.

The Namibian or Kalahari truffle, Terfezia pfeilii, also known by its  Nama name nabba, Kalahari sand-potato or knol, doesn’t appear every year, only when the rains have been late, and then it appears suddenly, usually in May and June. Resembling smallish (4 – 8 cm in diameter) unevenly proportioned potatoes covered in sand, they have soft, brown skin that bruises easily and a vaguely shiny marble-like flesh with the texture of soft cheese. It is interesting that since ancient times the San and Khoi-khoin (Nama) of the Kalahari have been eating a delicacy that today is eaten in Europe only by the wealthy.

Namibia’s truffles are found primarily in the red sands of the Kalahari regions, southwards to Maltahöhe and Aus. They grow in patches about 7 – 8 cm below the ground, and can be located by looking for small cracks in the surface. European truffles are usually collected with the aid of dogs or pigs, which put their noses to the ground follow the pungent scent. It is said that the Namas find them by watching baboons, which are particularly partial to them, as are bat-eared fox and suricates. Half-eaten portions are sometimes seen lying around where animals have dug them out and had their fill.

After peeling rather than washing off the sand, truffles can be either boiled or fried in butter, and eaten as an accompaniment to fish or meat. They can also be fried with onions and served in a white or sour sauce, or with cream. They can transform an ordinary brown stew into something really pungent and make an excellent risotto. The flavour of Namibian truffles is judged by gourmets to compare favourably with, if not surpass, that of the famous European truffle.

This article appeared in the Feb/March ‘04 edition of Travel News Namibia.

Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia is a high-quality glossy Namibia travel and lifestyle magazine tasked with promoting Namibia to the world. With riveting stories, first-hand encounters and magnificent photographs showcasing tourism, travel, nature, adventure and conservation, TNN is the ultimate and most comprehensive guide to exploring Namibia. Travel News Namibia is published in five different editions per year. These include four English- language editions and one German. Travel News Namibia is for sale in Namibia and South Africa.

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