written by jun
in addition to cooking, i like plants and nature. now that it’s autumn in hong kong, it’s actually very comfortable to be outdoors… i hike and walk more. i live in the part of hong kong that’s not surrounded by buildings that touch the sky… where i don’t have to elbow my way through the crowd just to cross the street. there are hiking trails, trees, flowers, and butterflies in this part of town. and where there are plants, there are opportunities.
what do i mean by opportunities? there’s an abundance of natural ingredients out in the wild. it’s a chance to explore and be creative. in other words, let’s go foraging!
“wait! what? foraging in hong kong?” you exclaim
yes, i know this isn’t copenhagen and you’re not the king of foragers like rene redzepi. but you’ll be amazed with what you can find when you pay a little attention to your surroundings, even in hong kong. sure, having some botanical background, like yours truly, helps when identifying plants. but you don’t have to be a renowned botanist to know what tasty treats are lying around your hood.
there’s a loop that i walk almost everyday. along this trail, there are a handful of plants that i have used in my recipes, here are just a few
lemon leaves – i found a lemon tree near a water treatment plant. i know, water treatment, lemon tree… sounds dirty. well, this thing was growing outside and far from any contaminants… that i’m aware of. these leaves are highly aromatic, similar to the zest of a lemon, with a hint of grass and brightness. i picked a handful of them and used it in my slow roast chicken recipe. it offered the scent of citrus without the acidity that comes with squeezing a lemon. it’s similar to the kaffir lime leaves, but not as fragrant. i’ve also used them in making pork meatballs.
passion fruit – i didn’t believe it either. actually, i didn’t know what those little bright orange balls were at first… until i put one in my mouth, risking the potential of being fatally poisoned. it has a very similar taste to the passion fruits we normally see in the stores. in fact, it is a passion fruit, just not the ones we’re used to. i made a creme brulee with this once, and it was damn good! better than the usual vanilla flavor.
banana and banana leaves – these are quite abundant around hong kong. the leaves, as you know, are commonly used to wrap fish or meat for steaming. i tried the banana fruit once, it’s definitely not the same as the store bought ones. it’s more like a plantain… starchy and dry. good for frying though.
lemongrass – the leaves of these plants are distinctively fragrant. when i crushed a few blades in between my fingers, it smelled like i just brushed my hand against a field of fresh grass and flowers. yeah, it’s that potent. there are numerous applications for lemongrass. i used it mainly as a marinade, for pork chops or chicken wings. i’ve also stuffed it in my slow roast chicken. it can be made into a tea as well.
thai basil – again, a place that you would never expect to find such a plant. it was located outside a busy warehouse, growing on a small patch of land amongst other decorative flowers. i actually didn’t recognize it until it bloomed. the spiky flowers are distinctive of this basil plant. and when you crush the leaves, you’ll automatically be able to identify the smell.
here are a few more goodies that i spotted along the way. i’m thinking of ways to use them for future recipes.
so there you go. the next time you go for a walk or hike, how about putting away that phone and look around you. see the natural abundance that this city has to offer.
oh, a couple of things to disclaim… these plants are grown wild or in public areas. by no means am i condoning you to walk into someones’s backyard or garden and harvest their goodies. and, don’t go around putting random plant materials into your mouth, some may actually be poisonous. there, consider yourself warned. happy foraging.