Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Living off the waste land

Deer steak from the Waterleidingduinen [Dune resort of the Amsterdam Water Board], wine from Vondel Park *), wild rabbit from Westpoort industrial estate, anything on your plate can be of urban provenance.

Imagine the shelves of supermarkets emptying fast, local food stores shutting down for days, or even weeks. It's not that improbable, a pandemic of pig flu, or a truckers' strike can do the job. Where would us city-dwellers turn to for our supper?

Should we savour sauteed tulip bulbs, like our grand-parents did during the starvation winter of WW II? Or would we resort to the oldest ways of food providing, and revive our dormant hunter-gatherer skills? Even in the built-up areas of our major cities there's ample opportunity for urban hunters and gatherers to catch a furry, or feathery friend, and to take home a rich harvest of fresh and healthy veggies and herbs for free.

I gathered from the web site of 'Het Parool', an Amsterdam daily, an article about urban foraging by an artistic couple, Wietske Maas and Matteo Pasquinello. Wietske is of Tasmanian birth, but of Dutch parentage. In her former life she was exhibiting in art galleries in Australia, but as of today she and Matteo have become hunter-gatherers in the Amsterdam outback.
Sander Overeinder, chef of restaurant 'As' [reminiscent of 'axis', as well as of 'Ashes to ashes', definitely not of 'ass'!], served their booty, diced and sliced to culinary standards, to a jury of artists and natural scientists.

The four-course experimental dinner consisted of:
1. a consommé of Chinese mitten crab, fished from the 'IJ' [~pron. 'eye'] in Amsterdam's western harbour area;
2. a fresh salad of hawthorn, comfrey, and lime-tree leaves, collected in the 'Amsterdamse Bos' *), a vast park to the south-west of the city;
3. and to add something of substance, collars of eel from the Petroleumhaven [litt. 'Kerosene Harbour', but it's only a name].
Some ingredients had to be bought, though: risotto rice, shallots, and lemons.

"We've been hunting with Piet Ruyter," said Wietske, "one of the last remaining eel fishers. And Martin Melchers, the city ecologist, showed us where to hunt for mitten crabs and American river crayfish. The vegetal components of the dishes I collected myself in Wester Park *) and Sloter Park."

*) Short descriptions of Amsterdam parks.

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