Foraging food started as a vogue some ten years back--a push back to proliferating globalization and homogenization of food. The reaction, it was claimed, was to restore our link with Mother Earth and persuade us to adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle full of enjoyment of fresh, rejuvenating flavours.
Noma in Denmark was the trendsetter more than a decade back with the partner chef arguing persuasively that wild food connects people with nature and allows them a wonderful opportunity to slow down, reflect, introspect and discover themselves. It continues to retain its position at the top of the charts as Noma 2.0.
What appeared as a passing fad has over the years become a powerful addiction for the gourmet. Traders are constrained to employ professional foragers to cope with the demand.
South Africa and Australia are home to many renowned restaurants with food inspired by the tradition of foraging. Australian Bush foods and ingredients from Outback form. Large part of the menu - Blue cornmeal, sweet potatoes, Bunya nuts, Yam Daisy find a prominent place in the carte.
Most chefs content themselves with adding a foraged twist to traditional recipes. But then there is a growing breed of innovators who accept foraging as their creed.
In Denmark, Faviken's chefs use only food foraged from 20,000 acre grounds that the restaurant has access to. The only exceptions are salt, sugar and alcoholic vinegar. Much of the fare comprises dishes smoked dried pickled fermented, salted or burned.
Alex Atala in Sao Paulo is one of the leading exponents of going back to indigenous roots. His food celebrates his ancestral Amazonian culture.
Miyamasou a Japanese restaurant with Two Michelin stars is famed for its Kaisiki (evening meal) offering an exceptionally eclectic selection covering a wide range of foraged ingredients from fresh flowers to wild bear. Another restaurant utilizes everything from edible clay, corn, quinoa mahogany clams and horse mussels. There are other eateries specializing in foraged foods in different continents.
Chef Vigilio Martinez Veliz has a 17 dish tasting menu covering all the radians of Peru.
Kwan, a Korean Zen Buddhist nun prepares purely vegan repast from ingredients foraged from the Baekyangsa temple's garden and the adjacent forest. This is part of her spiritual discipline.
Locavore philosophy emphasizes consuming only whatever is locally available. It also reminds the diners that in nature there is no waste and hence we shouldn't waste any food we forage!
The modern city is often referred to as a concrete jungle but recently those who dwell in these mega settlements have started discovering the 'forests' it cradles inviting foragers to look for nourishment there.
How easily we forget that Indians in the rural hinterland have for generations subsisted on gatherings from the forest. Moringa (drumsticks) are widely used in Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The nutritional value of mooring is well known and according to local lore that Fidel Castro once sent a Cuban expert to study if it could help meet the nutritional needs of his compatriots.
In Andhra Pradesh gongura (Roselle) leaves are the wild-growing greens that add a distinct sour tang to most savoury dishes. In Nepal, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and in the northeastern states linguda/lingdi (fiddlehead ferns) are relished as a stir-fried vegetable or in pickled form. Stinging Nettles were once the staple for the abjectly poor in the same belt. According to legend the mystic saint poet tantrik Millerappa had once sustained himself during a forty day-long fast on a diet of these nettles.
Tarud is a yam resembling the elephant foot yam that was painstakingly foraged in the Himalayan region. Bhutanese continue to farm asparagus in the wilderness and bamboo shoots in the northeastern states. Wild honey continues to be gathered from hives precariously perched on the ramparts of the thousand-year-old fort at Kalinjar in UP.
Palm Hearts (Sea Cabbage) are not usually encountered in India but Amaranths and Mulberry (Shehtoot) are foraged along with other berries and edible flowers. Guchhi are Kashmiri yellow morels that selling at about Rs 30 thousand per kilo are arguably the most expensive foraged food item.