I have been reading Lonely Planet’s list of new things to do in 2013. Some bordered on the ridiculous like the newest sport, kronum, some do-able like the newest city, Songdo in South Korea, and then there were those that made me sit up and take notice.
Although not an entirely new concept but a novelty nonetheless, digital detox vacations are gaining popularity among the well-heeled, while foraged cuisine is making its presence felt in restaurants all over the world. I may not buy into the idea of paying a higher price to stay in a “black-hole resort” with zero connectivity but I can see why some people may enjoy the break. For now, as I travel with a toddler, my husband and I would like all to have all sorts of apps and information at our fingertips. Hiking in the back country with just a compass is not an option, sorry. But foraged cuisine, aah, that seems like something I could try.
There is something so romantic and dangerous about going out and procuring your own vegetables, fish and meat. It’s a step-up from farm-to-fork dining and every bit as fresh, local, organic and seasonal as you would like it to be. But there’s that possibility of picking the wrong berry and falling sick or even dying. To save you from such misery and from venturing into private properties and other common “foraging hassles”, there are professional foragers who offer guided hikes. These groups know their environment well, they know which shellfish is flush with pollutants, and they are slowly becoming indispensable to chefs who take pride in serving wild nettle salsa verde with their equally wild fish. Just google for forage groups/tours by city if you are interested – you will find them everywhere from Tokyo to Toronto. And when you do, please ask them how they manage in the winter, especially in places where it snows.
During my brief research on everything “forage”, I was happy to learn that the guides make sure that you pick, fish or hunt responsibly. Sustainability is key, as it should be. After all, I wouldn’t want us to make a dent in Chip ‘n’ Dale’s winter stash. Haven’t we done enough to our environment already?
If you are wondering where it all started, well, according to many in the world of foodie trends, Copenhagen’s Noma may have been at the center of this revolution. If you switch on the Travel Channel, chances are you will see Anthony Bourdain scraping barks with a bunch of highly-acclaimed chefs in the wilderness of Tokyo or Andrew Zimmern recounting his foraging adventures in San Francisco. But urban foraging isn’t easy. One guy got arrested for eating dandelions in Central Park (later I found out that he was conducting foraging tours without a license and that’s how he got into trouble, not for nibbling on a pesky weed), and then there’s Fido doing his stuff.
Yesterday I was out walking in the park when I happened to come across a brown suspicious looking heap by a large oak and muttered under my breath about “those damn dog walkers not cleaning up after their dog” when on closer inspection the said “heap” revealed itself to be a cluster of mud-colored mushrooms. Assuming it is lawful to do so, if some foraging expert or chef were to okay the curbside fungus and turn it into a tasty dish, would I say no to it? Of course not. But I wouldn’t really try to do anything with it myself. I like my produce picked, checked, cleaned, cut, nicely packaged and often, frozen.