Where the wild things grow

We fol­low chef Florian Rid­der from The Sum­mer­house on a for­ag­ing ad­ven­ture through Dempsey. By Ni­cole-Marie Ng

Time Out Singapore - - News -

We fol­low a chef into the Dempsey bush in search of the elu­sive wild cu­cum­ber

‘HEAD DOWN THE SLOPE be­hind St Ge­orge’s Church un­til you reach an open field, and you should find it there.’ De­spite the furtive lilt, these di­rec­tions from a friend didn’t lead to buried trea­sure but to a plot of land in Dempsey where clus­ters of wild cu­cum­bers grow. And with the in­struc­tions in my back pocket, I set out with chef Florian Rid­der from The Sum­mer­house to see what we could for­age for din­ner.

Look­ing for in­gre­di­ents in your own back­yard is the cool thing chefs and bar­tenders are do­ing at the mo­ment, and the 28-year-old Ger­man chef is no stranger to the trend. He has a gar­den at The Sum­mer­house where he grows a va­ri­ety of greens from sweet potato leaves to but­ter­fly pea flow­ers. But how easy is it to for­age in ur­ban Sin­ga­pore? Would we even find any­thing worth putting in a dish? Here’s what tran­spired dur­ing our lit­tle ex­pe­di­tion.

If eaten raw in large quan­ti­ties, the sweet leaf shrub can be deadly

We meet at the church in the early morn­ing on a quest to find the elu­sive cu­cum­bers. Not even 5 min­utes into our hunt, Rid­der squats by the side of the road and picks up some laven­der sor­rel – its pale pur­ple flow­ers are a dead giveaway. The sor­rel leaves are sur­pris­ing tangy, a re­fresh­ing palate cleanser to start the day with. Maybe this for­ag­ing busi­ness will be eas­ier than I had first an­tic­i­pated.

True enough, about 10 min­utes later, the ea­gle- eyed chef spots a sweet leaf shrub (also known as ‘mani cai’ in Chi­nese or ‘sayur ma­nis’ in Malay) creep­ing up on the side of a fence. The veg­etable is com­monly stir-fried with egg and chilli, but if eaten raw in large quan­ti­ties, it can be deadly. Of course, I only dis­cov­ered this fact af­ter gob­bling up a cou­ple of these de­li­cious leaves.

Still on the road­side, we found a clump of peper­o­mia, a suc­cu­lent that’s slightly spicy, hence its name. But just as I was about to sam­ple the goods, Rid­der re­marks that the spot we found the leaves in looks like the per­fect place for a dog to do its busi­ness – and I promptly threw the leaves on the ground. ‘My aunt used to con­duct for­ag­ing classes in Ger­many,’ the chef ex­plains. ‘In Europe, you have to be more care­ful be­cause wolves roam the area and will mark their ter­ri­tory with urine.’

Rid­der spots laven­der sor­rel by the road­side


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