Friday, 26 February 2016

Foraging in the wilds of Singapore

Foraging, or the act of searching for wild edible ingredients, is catching on in the urban landscape of Singapore. Food Correspondent Rebecca Lynne Tan susses out the foraging scene here. -- PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM RAZOR.TV

The mircrogreens that garnish dishes such as scallop ceviche, from wood sorrel to pennywort, can be found in less developed areas around the island, as well as in areas as urbanised as Dempsey Hill.

Mr Bjorn Low, 34, founder of urban farming consultancy Edible Gardens, who has a strong interest in local plants, takes The Straits Times on a hunt for plants that include peperomia, a wild pepper varietal that grows well in shaded areas, and the herbaceous and startlingly bitter King Of Bitters, an inconspicuous shrub with dark green leaves.

During low tide, one can also forage for clams and mussels along Kranji Beach. There, while digging and trudging the mud flats with foraging enthusiast Nigel Lian, 26, a communications executive, The Straits Times found native horseshoe crabs, clams, and mussels.

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A beginner's guide to foraging in Singapore
Purslane
Butterfly Pea
Spanish Needle

Foraging may sound like an impossible task in concrete jungle Singapore, but edible plants are still wildly available if you know where to look. Former kampongs  (villages) like Sembawang and Lim Chu Kang, for example, are good places to start.

Foragers are strongly advised to study and research a wild plant before they consume it. Some plants may be very similar in appearance, but they could be very different species altogether. Some parts of an otherwise edible plant may actually be poisonous.

My grandmother who fought in World War II and lived inside Singapore’s thick jungles for two years surviving only on foraged plants has this tip for me: always observe what the animals are eating. If they appear fine after consuming it, chances are, you will be fine too. (However, they did once have a bad bout of wild tapioca poisoning that rendered all the soldiers sick for days -the bitter variety of tapioca has so much cyanide in it, it turned out, and needs to be soaked, fermented and cooked over high heat before it is safe to be eaten.)

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