Heidi Spurrell | 12th March 2020 | 4min read

We dig a little deeper into the natural bounty that Hong Kong’s habitats have to offer.  

Choosing the most sustainable ingredients for a HK menu is no mean feat!  Should we opt for local, or do we need to go further afield to guarantee a reliable, consistent and quality supply ingredients, produced in a responsible environment?  Do we go seasonal (but hold on, there is only one growing season in HK), or do we compromise on food miles and follow other seasons around the globe to offer the tastiest ingredients?  Let’s face it, it’s a giant juggling act! But there is one solution that guarantees ingredients that are locally grown, in-season, delicious, nutritious, relatively unexplored and downright creative, and free, that is foraging!

What is foraging?  In this context, foraging is the act of collecting your own ingredients that naturally grow around Hong Kong, to uplift your menus with exciting local flora and fauna.

We were excited to learn more about the concept of foraging from our very own forager, farmer and Sohofama community builder, Jaki Faulkner, at our recent Sustainability Breakfast on Valuing Natural Resources.  Jaki has years of permaculture experience in Hong Kong, including managing a farm in Clearwater Bay, and was able to highlight the pick of the foraging crop as well as a few top tips.

“Foraging should be carried out responsibly,” is Jaki’s number one word of advice.  “You need to know what you are looking for and be cautious of over-foraging. But for restaurants that are keen to introduce some foraged elements to their menus, don’t forget that these are plants that grow in abundance in Hong Kong.  They love our climate and soils.

Find your own piece of outdoor space; on the roof, down the alley, in window boxes or on balconies, and grow your own. It’s the perfect solution.”

There are some stunning flowers that occur naturally in Hong Kong so we asked Jaki to share her top five ‘flowers with flavour’ which could give menus a noteworthy flourish!\

Hibiscus (or Sea Hibiscus/Coastal Hibiscus) has a stunningly beautiful flower and is traditionally used as tea for soothing a number of ailments.  All parts of the plant are edible and the flower has a delicious crunchy, creamy, golden taste and will always be worthy of that inspirational Instagram post!

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis) is a low-lying shrub whose flowers taste like a cross between spring onion and lemon.  Looks and tastes fabulous in salads. All parts of Wood Sorrel are edible including leaves, flowers, seed pods and roots.

Spanish Needles (or Shepherd’s/Butterfly Needles) is officially a weed and the daisy-like flower has a woody taste which can be combined with other garden herbs to make a tangy salsa verde or pesto.  Can also be drunk as a tea in Summer to cool the body, but be careful as it’s a diuretic, so consume in moderate amounts.

Frangipani not only has the most intoxicating fragrant scent but the edible flowers can be dusted in sugar, or made into tempura, dried for tea, or even frozen.  Note: only the flowers are edible, the rest of the plant is toxic.

Calendula (also known as Marigold) has beautiful golden flowers offering a multitude of culinary possibilities, including sprinkling on soups, pasta, rice and salad dishes.  The sharp distinctive taste also resembles saffron and the petals add a yellow hint to soups, spreads and eggs. Note: only the petals are edible.

The Miracle Tree

There are too many local edible species to mention in this one piece, but Jaki does advise giving some consideration to the Moringa Tree, also referred to as the Miracle Tree as it is a super superfood.  “This tree grows anywhere, and will thrive even in bad soil, but the leaves are packed with protein, calcium, iron, beta carotene, vitamin C and more.  Consider using Moringa as the next Kale or Spinach as it can be used in just as many ways and more. Guests will be treated to a delicious dish which also packs a hefty nutritious punch!”

If you are serious about foraging then do consider a foraging tour with a local expert who will make sure you don’t miss out on any of the good stuff.  Foraging experts will also be able to indicate how you can ‘grow your own’ and how to ‘forage responsibly’.

We hope to be able to offer a Foraging Workshop with Jaki in the not too distant future so we’ll share more news soon.

We’d love to hear ideas from our members on how they have been able to incorporate locally foraged ingredients into their menus.  We know this won’t be practical for every food business, but it definitely is one answer to creating really exciting, locally-inspired and nutrition-packed menus that will leave the taste buds craving more and your footprint just a little bit lighter!