Foraging Diaries (NTU Herb Garden)

Michelle is our resident forager. If you get the chance to take a stroll with her, you might notice that she has the ability to stop suddenly to pluck off some weed-looking plant from the roadside and put it in her mouth. She will be sharing her foraging diaries with us in hope that we can start seeing the forest as a free grocery store. Here goes…


We got word about a day before about some chefs wanting to forage – Mads Reflunds, fresh off the 4×4 event, with other chefs – Dave from Burnt Ends, Bryan from Morsels, Denise who gathered us all, us farmer folks, and Rebecca, interviewing Mads for the Straits Times.

We brought the guys to NTU (Nanyang Technological University), one of my favourite spots for the curious plants, including the fragrant Tonkin Jasmine, with its mandarin colored, edible flowers blossoms.

I am observing the responses. Uncle Ng leads the tour, serving his usual rounds of herbal tea (which I politely turn down). Mads gingerly picks up, and sniffs the Asiatic Pennywort, Centella Asiatica, breaking into a grin – finally – someone who gets excited by ingredients! (often times I get blank stares when I share with friends about this).

We move through a few other plants familiar to us – Wild Mints, Shinybush, Wormwood, Blue Butterfly Pea and Yellow Pea flowers, Wild Maracuja (tiny in size), etc. I am once again exhausted from the mosquitos that leave me bitten and bleeding.

…and because the garden has so many varieties – we were stumped when questions were thrown back to us to which we had no answers to. There is yet to much to discover, and understand in terms of the fauna right at our doorsteps. Nonetheless, the bunch of them were amazed (just as I am, for the nth time), that yes, no doubt it’s a garden, but it holds a spectacular variety of herbs localised in the region, of which many hold medicinal values.

Ferns and Fiddleheads:  Typically, the tender, young tips are eaten; fleshy and tasty

Ferns and Fiddleheads:
Typically, the tender, young tips are eaten; fleshy and tasty

We moved onto Dempsey Village, and scour for more – Wild Curry plants – untamed piquant flavor compared to its domesticated counterpart, nightshades (for pickling, it’s great, I am told). We also find: Yellow Wood Sorrel – oxalis, sour, sweet, full on flavor, lingering taste, seemingly like a clover; more Shiny Bush – waxy, crunchy (reminds me of soapsuds though); ferns, new and fresh fiddleheads, pakus – and more.

Moving back to Burnt Ends with Dave and the bunch, the chefs get to what they know best. We too, start documenting and laying out the herbs across the grill, and get down to work. We are contented being trigger happy with our phone cameras. William slides into the kitchen and becomes the unofficial photographer of the foraging bunch. Everyone holds their breath, the dishes being created before our eyes.

Soon enough, we are treated to an orgasmic spread; I am particularly surprised and happy that the humble (often trampled upon) Asiatic Pennywort, pi shaped – is given a royal makeover – drizzled with full on basil oil, a touch of passionfruit juice, a burst of legume from the yellow pea flower petals, dressed atop daikon radish thinly sliced. A curious mix of flavors, spicy, sour, bitter, tangy.

In the Making: Mads had yet to add the Asiatic Pennywort for a bitter edge.

In the Making: Mads had yet to add the Asiatic Pennywort for a bitter edge.

Dave removes his salt – encrusted, oven baked mahi-mahi (full on rock salt, and he sticks a thermometer into the fish to gauge how well done it is – this guy is serious about his craft – I made a mental note) and promptly cuts it up – flavoured with Wormwood – bittersweet, similar to dill, wrapped in a leaf I couldn’t identify. Simple, wholesome flavors that reminded me of my time spent by the Pacific Coast, reminiscent of salty breezes. His guys served a salad of forages leaves – creme fraiche with leaves assorted – Sweet Potato, Okinawan Spinach, Fiddleheads. A wild mix of purple, reds, and greens, raw flavors that come together. And those Frog Leg fritters – with a curry dip from the Wild Curry leaves foraged earlier – so good!

As a whole, us coming together for the purpose to create, and partake in a good meal, was simple and understated in its actions, in highlighting how human bonds are foraged over communal pleasures, such as this.


Note:

When foraging, be sure to identify the correct plant, as not all plants are edible! It may take a bit of practice to learn the physical characteristics of a plant which is forage-able. Also, keep away from spots where sources of pollutants are present (wandering dogs, and vehicles, for instance).

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