5 Wild Food Finds | Urban Foraging Around the World
The foraging trend, first popularized about a decade or so ago by chef René Redzepi of Copenhagen’s Noma, has spread all over the world at breakneck pace. It seems these days that everyone is on the hunt for locally-grown or wild food.
But the word ‘foraging’ stills bring to mind the likes of truffle-hunting in Istria or berry-picking in English meadows. Whereas it’s now urban river banks, pavements and railway lines that are proving fertile ground for modern hunter gatherers.
To help enthusiasts find the ultimate wild food travel experience, Booking.com has cherry-picked a selection of global cities championing the trend. And all these destinations have been paired with an accommodation that will incorporate foraging or local, seasonal food into your stay.
Foraging is fast becoming a way of life in Cape Town, incredibly outdoorsy city that it is. The city’s beaches are home to a range of wild rosemary, wild spinach and num nums, wild berries similar to cranberries. Sea Point Promenade is a popular foraging spot where you can delve into the local marine biodiversity, picking up sea urchins and sea lettuce from the bountiful rock pools.
Several hotels in Cape Town organize foraging experiences but the fantastic location of the Table Bay Hotel, right amid all the city’s top wild food spots makes it perfect for keen urban hunter gatherers. If you prefer to have a guiding hand to work out what’s edible and what’s not, the springtime foraging tour is ideal. Guests spend a day searching for exotic delicacies with expert forager Charles Standing and Executive Chef Jocelyn Myers-Adams, while enjoying glorious ocean views. And after a hard day’s foraging work, the luxury Table Bay Hotel is a great sanctuary to retreat back to, with waterfront views and Table Mountain as a backdrop.
The London foraging community is one of the most active in the world, with exciting new groups constantly cropping up to guide you on your foraging mission. Abundance, Hackney Harvest and Urban Harvest are a few that organize foraging forays such as edible flower walks and tours with maps of fruit trees in the area. And London’s green spaces – particularly Wimbledon Common, Hampstead Heath and Epping Forest – are fertile ground for mushrooming, so there are guided walks you can join to ensure you don’t pick a poisonous bunch. Overall, England’s vast capital is home to a surprising array of wild food for sustainable foraging, from elderflower and nettles in summer to blackberries and crab apples in autumn.
Heston Blumenthal’s London restaurant, Dinner, is housed in Knightsbridge’s glamorous Mandarin Oriental hotel. Inspired by historic British gastronomy, the menu here is full of genius twists on traditional dishes such as ‘meat fruit’, a recipe dating back to the 16th century. Heston’s take on this is a mandarin and chicken liver parfait that perfectly resembles a mandarin orange, in which a parfait of irresistible consistency and flavour is enclosed. The restaurant is supplied by sustainable company Forager, and prides itself on its locally-inspired recipes and ingredients. And the breathtakingly beautiful hotel backs onto Hyde Park, should you be tempted to go on a forage yourself.
Hunting for raw ingredients in Australia is far more fruitful than you might expect. And not just in terms of trawling the bush. The urban foraging scene in both Sydney and Melbourne is now huge, while restaurants in Melbourne that find their own food are also becoming immensely popular. Prime example of this is Attica, where Executive Chef Ben Shewry (and owner as of July 2015) has won numerous awards for his inventive and unusual menus and his approach to foraging. There is a variety of guided tours and workshops such as Edible Weeds Walks, as well as several foraging hotspots, including Merri Creek (from North Fitzroy to Northcote), North Fitzroy (along the old railway tracks) and La Trobe University.
Though the city has plenty of foraging spots and foraged-food restaurants, for a truly comprehensive foraging experience, Edible Weeds hosts walks through the Yarra Valley, just outside of Melbourne. And the Healesville Hotel is a perfect base for these foraging adventures. The hotel itself boasts an impressive gourmet menu full of seasonal recipes; try the Yarra Valley pasta linguine with kale and basil pesto, alongside some of the area’s finest wines.
San Francisco is so forager-friendly that it even has its own not-for-profit foraging organization, ForageSF, started in 2008 to support the local food community through various projects including The Underground Market and The Wild Kitchen. The latter is a sort of nomadic supperclub where one hundred diners sit together on anything from a houseboat in Sausalito to a roof-deck in the Mission, all enjoying sustainably and locally foraged food. If you’d rather get your hands dirty finding food yourself, Sea Forager tours are a great option for helping you learn the art of how to spot edible goodies along the shoreline. You’ll learn how to cast nets, snare crabs and the extremely useful dos and don’ts of mussel picking.
Overlooking San Francisco’s scenic waterfront and many of the city’s key foraging spots, Hotel Vitale is just five minutes’ walk from the Ferry Building Marketplace. This hub of local produce is where the hotel’s Italian restaurant Americano sources its ingredients. The menus here are carefully curated with seasonal and robust flavours, such as the pan-roasted local king salmon with fresh corn and chorizo polenta hash. Americano is also well-known for its bi-annual ‘wild foods’ dinners, featuring the likes of wild porcini and morel mushrooms and elderflowers foraged by the chefs themselves.
New York’s Central Park or Brooklyn’s Prospect Park are an Aladdin’s cave for urban foragers. New York naturalist and ‘wildman’, Steve Brill, runs foraging expeditions to find ingredients like wild garlic and dandelion, which makes a marvellous garnish. Another passionate forager is Leda Meredith, author and expert on foraging who also takes enthusiasts on tours around the city, varying greatly from season to season. And as someone who has subsisted entirely on food grown or raised within 250 miles of Brooklyn, she’s quite an authority on the subject.
The Peninsula Hotel, in its prime location in downtown Manhattan, not only has its own impressive rooftop restaurant but also runs Foraging Tours and Picnics as part of its Pensinsula Academy. During this two-hour experience guests are taken to hidden spots around Central Park where herbs and vegetables grow in the wild. Though tours adhere to the park’s ‘point-not-pluck’ policy, there is plenty to learn about what to eat and what to avoid before the tour culminates with a hearty and delicious picnic using locally-sourced ingredients.