Foraging with Chef Bun Lai of Miya’s Sushi in New Haven

ellen bowen

To Forage:  The word forage means to use wander or search for food or provisions. 

So when I was invited to James Beard nominated and passionate foraging chef, Bun Lai’s farm in upstate Connecticut for lunch, I half expected we would forage for much of our meal.  

When I saw on Instagram that Bun and his friend, Greg Grinberg from Actual Food had been diving the prior day for clams for lunch, I knew I was in for a treat. 

Chef Bun Lai is a passionate advocate for sustainable farming and eating and sources much of the food he serves at his New Haven sushi restaurant, Miya’s, from his own gardens, from the wooded forest around his 10 acre farm in Woodbridge, CT and from Long Island Sound.   His popular restaurant has been a New Haven destination for over 35 years, originally opened by his mother, who is still involved today. 

To visit with Bun is a lesson in locally sourced produce, with no pesticides or flavor or color enhancements.  He and Greg described foraging as, “the most natural way of eating… the “gathering” part of the hunter/gatherer”.  Bun also said that in the Western world today “food has far too many calories and far too few nutrients“.  Major farms supported by corporations cultivate for appearance, size, flavor, heartiness and shelf life but not for nutrition. Hence the perfect red tomato, or perfect shaped peach or apple with little nutritional value. 

Our foraging began after a refreshing smoothie made from watermelon and dandelion and as we wandered thru the tall grass and what I knew as weeds, Bun pointed out wild lettuce, sorrel, mustard garlic, juniper and sassafras.  He plucked leaves and flowers and gathered them into a basket.


He urged me to taste the freshness and smell the natural aromas.  A lemony tasting sorrel, a fragrant sassafras. I found myself gazing at the ground thru different eyes, as a sort of meditative and peaceful feeling came over me.  

After collecting an abundance of greens, which I honestly thought were just commonplace weeds, we strolled over to the corral and barn where Bun fed the prickly thistle to his two goats, who seemed ecstatic at the treat. 

Now on to the lunch.  Bun tossed the newly collected greens with fresh ginger, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Large fresh hard shell clams from the prior days diving excursion were steamed open and loaded into a large wooden bowl.  Freshly made buckwheat noodles topped with fresh parsley and a salty clam broth with wild onions and Japanese basil were served. We eagerly dipped the noodles into the broth and slurped the broth and clams together. 

The crisp salad was a perfect complement to the salty clams and broth.  On the table were Ball jars of homemade Watermelon rind, Pickled Ramps, and Japanese Invasive Knotweed.   

It was both a delicious and educational afternoon and I asked Bun about this past winter’s pop up in Miami at the 1 Hotel on Miami Beach.  A huge success, Prey, on the hotel’s hip rooftop offered sustainable dining on invasive species to both the environmentally conscious Miamian and the Miami visitor.  He also has currently in the works an episodic TV mini-series with actor and MIT-trained environmental scientist and invasive species hunter, Dylan Bruno, to travel into the great unknown to help bring balance to our nation’s ecosystems, and has a guest spot as the healthy food expert on a remake of 60’s TV show Wonderama. 

And many days you will catch Bun at Miya’s in New Haven, who will be more than willing to share his vision and passion for a healthier and more sustainable world…and he might just invite you to join him foraging! 

Miya’s Sushi

68 Howe St, New Haven, CT 06511

(203) 777-9760