Forest Foraging with Amy Besa

Hiya! I’m Kathi, Holy Carabao’s Marketing Manager. It’s been a real adventure working for these guys, but I don’t think any experience would beat my ‘first day’. I got a call from Hindy, one of the co-founders, to join them on a visit on one of their farms. I woke up bright and early and found myself sipping a very hot coffee outside their farm in Batulao, Batangas, waiting for Hindy, Mel, and the rest of the team. And surprise, guess who was with them? Amy Besa, the fantastic lady who makes up one half of Purple Yam NYC and Malate!




We ended up spending most of our morning walking around the biodynamic forest of Batulao, with the local residents showing us different types of edible weeds, bark, leaves, and fruit.




Amy was as giddy as a school girl, pointing, touching, sniffing, and tasting everything – like these little native mulberries, which we ended up eating later that afternoon.




It’s pretty amazing what you could find growing in the forest. We stumbled across this interesting looking mushroom on the forest floor, but nobody could say whether or not it was edible so we didn’t forage that, since it may or may not be poisonous. That would be a really bad start to my first day on the job!




Mel, one of the co-founders, foraged what looked like weeds. This was paragis, also called goose grass or dog tail grass. Its stem and leaves are edible, though it doesn’t really taste like much, and is helpful to alleviate indigestion or tummy aches.




Tada! Here’s what we foraged in the forest that morning. Can you identify any of the weirder looking things? There’s tenga ng daga or cloud ear fungus, tibig or wild Philippine figs, honeycomb, takip kuhol or  pennyworth,  kalumpit or myrobalan,  yellow wood sorrel,  pugo pugo or green water sedge, pansit-pansitan or clear weed or shiny bush, aplan gabi, mani mani or peanut flowers, and makahiya flowers from the bashful mimosa.




Now, if spending a morning with Amy Besa wasn’t enough of a treat, she and her Purple Yam Malate team also cooked lunch for us using the foraged ingredients… in the middle of the forest clearing! I was over the moon. MY FIRST DAY!!!




We were served jap chae with tamarind chili sauce and a variety of greens, along with the tenga ng daga and katmon that were foraged from the forest, also garnished with a sprinkling of microgreens. Katmon is an odd fruit, whose pinkish-white flesh containing its seed is encased in a greenish yellow leathery flaps of sorts. It’s fruit has a mild bitter and sour taste, and is used in jams and preserves in most parts of Southeast Asia.




The black pig pata humba used native black pot-bellied pig from Holy Carabao. This was very tender and literally fell off the bone, paired best with a splash of sukang Iloco, with roasted garlic bulbs adding another dimension of flavor to the simple marinated pork.




In true Purple Yam fashion, heirloom rice from two terriors are represented in this dish – the Tinawon Fancy from the Ifugao province and Mindoro Black Native rice – with corn kernels, chopped carrots, red onions, and celery, garnished with pansit-pansitan, a weed that is quite common all over the country.




The best part of lunch (for me, at least), was dessert! Our Iced Dessert in the forest consisted of milk ice cream on a bed of watermelon ice and passion fruit sorbet topped with the wild mulberries we foraged earlier that day. Big props to Purple Yam’s Pastry Chef, Agnes, for this! Made with just cream, the base of the dessert was oh, so light, flavored with sweet watermelon and a slight tang from the passionfruit. The mulberries were turned into a compote and was just sweet enough to complement the three other ingredients in the bowl. Of course we fought for who should have seconds.

Props to the Purple Yam team who came out to cook in the middle of a forest- Rap Cristobal, Shar Santos, and Agnes Lim – and a big thank you to chef Amy for the very educational morning. After this trip, the next time somebody tells me how they wish they could go to Copenhagen and  visit Noma because “they forage what they serve,” I’m going to recommend that they check their backyard – they’ll probably find something interesting growing there, too!