Oxalis, strawberries, parsley, radishes and even samphire are hardly exotic elements of the pantry, unless they come from the Chilean coast. Here they relate to their cousins with similar names via taste, but they are decidedly different in terms of color and texture and in some cases are akin only in flavor. When I arrived in Chile over a week ago, I was welcomed by Chef Rodolfo Guzman, two of his sous chefs – Sergio Meza and Tommy de Olarte – and my friend Bonjwing Lee, who arrived a couple of days earlier. Once I settled into my hotel, I was invited to join Chef Guzman, Olarte and Bonjwing Lee on a foraging trek along the Chilean coast before the evening’s service at Boragó. I accepted the offer with excitement and I was glad that I did. The trek to the shore was longer than I expected, but the payoff was huge. It was a beautiful, rocky and treacherous setting, but it was rich with the kinds of coastal plants that Chef Guzman was looking for.
What Guzman called “sea strawberries” taste like sweet strawberries with a touch of salt, but they are totally unrelated to the common land fruit or the soft coral that goes by the same name.
They are the fruit of a succulent growing amongst rocks along the coast and are pealed before eating. They were at the end of their brief season, so weren’t plentiful, but I did get to taste a few of these unusual delights.
Oxalis grew amongst the sea strawberry succulents as well as in other spots. Containing copious amounts of oxalic acid (beware of this for those who form kidney stones!), this small plant and flower, a type of wood sorrel, is tart with some sweetness in the background. The oddity here was the particular purple tinge of the leaves of the local species.
Sea Parsley grows along a number of coastlines around the world. Here it is much thicker than conventional parsley, though the flavor is clearly in the same family. It has a texture that reminds me of succulents.
Both Rodolfo and Tommy were excited to find red samphire or salicornia with Tommy making a mad dash down a steep incline to get to it. Crisp and clean flavored, this is a wonderful accent on a plate.
Rodolfo was even more enthusiastic when he came across wild radish plants. These were both spicy and sweet with plenty of radish flavor, all the while looking nothing like the radishes we are accustomed to eating.
Throughout our trek, we were accompanied by this stray dog, who seemed to take an interest in us and what we were doing. He was with us over boulders and down to the water. He was friendly enough, but we refrained from making an strong overtures to this unknown animal.
It was starting to get late, so we wrapped up the foraging and began the car ride back to the city. It had been an exhilarating and beautiful afternoon. The best part, though, was that I was going to taste some of these items and more that very evening when Bonjwing and I would dine at Boragó.
Here is the slide show of my entire Flick’r photoset.