Main menu:

Site search


September 2021
« Apr    


干巴菌 (Gan Ba Jun) Thelephora Vialis

by Xiao

干巴菌 (Gan Ba Jun) Thelephora Vialis is one of the most sought after wild mushrooms in Yunnan. It usually grows in pine forest. Pine needles are often found in the cluster of the Gan Ba Jun. It is very time consuming to clean as the mushroom grows around dirt, rock, twigs. It has to be torn into small pieces carefully in order to remove the unwanted substances. A small peeling knife is often used to get rid of soil.

Well, the high price and painstaking cleaning process is worth it as Gan Ba Jun has one of the most intense and complex flavor one could taste. The favorite cooking method among locals is to stir fry it with some fresh green chili peppers and garlic. The bite from green chili pepper can bring out more of Gan Ba Jun’s flavor. Garlic not only provides a bit sweet taste to the dish, but also is a paring ingredient for almost all the wild mushrooms in the region for its “poison removing quality” to make people feel safer. :)

If one is in the vicinity when the dish is being cooked, the aroma certainly will get one’s attention and raise one’s expectation. When the dish is served, the best way is to taste it one small bit (not bite) at a time. This way, one is not overwhelmed by the intensity of the flavor. Chew it slowly and breath out through one’s nose to experience different layers of it flavor.

With its relatively low moisture content and intense flavor, Gan Ba Jun can be cooked with many strong flavored ingredients and in many ways and still stand out. Its flavor preserves well too. It is like good tea, tea with first batch of hot water does not necessarily taste the fullest. There are some pickles produced with Gan Ba Jun in the region. It certainly shows the range of this rare wild mushroom

鸡纵菌 (Ji Zong Jun) [Termitornyces albuminosus(Berk)Heim]

by Xiao

If I need to pick an absolute favorite among all the Yunnan wild mushrooms, it has to be 鸡纵菌 (Ji Zong Jun). Unlike other mushroom, one will only find it with certain local termite mounts. And if one pays attention not to destroy the mount while picking the mushroom, one can come back later to harvest during the season. Guess this is nature’s way to teach us leave a small footprint whatever we do.

Local people cook Ji Zong Jun in several different ways. Stir fry with various vegetables and meats. Slowly deep fry it to get concentrate the flavor and to preserve it. Using this method, even the oil it is preserved in is so infused with flavors, it is simply wonderful to put in other dishes or just plain noodles. Yet my favorite dish is a simple soup/broth with just the Ji Zong Jun, water, a bit of salt, and couple of drops of vegetable oil before serving. I like it because this is the only way to bring out the subtle sweetness of the mushroom which is perfect with its unique aroma. Some people say the inside flesh is snow white and has texture like chicken and the soup is very tasty like the best chicken soup. But I have to disagree. If cooked right, the mushroom is both tender and crisp with light yet such complex flavor, it is like nothing one will ever taste. And the soup, I can just down it bowl after bowl, day after day, if it is up to me.

Yunnan Wild Mushrooms

by Xiao

In a person’s lifetime, one witnesses regional and cultural changes. Often what was familiar become not recognizable. People change, places change, yet food seems to be more of a constant. Whether one is sick or homesick, one tends to look to the food in their childhood memory for comfort. Yunnan wild mushrooms are that comforting thought for me.

Yunnan has become more recognized internationally over the years for its tourist attractions like Shangrila, Tiger Leaping Gorge. Local delicacy of course is on a tourist’s menu. Usually, people try the more known dishes like Cross Bridge rice noodle, clay pot steam chicken, etc. But if one has not tried the simple home-cooked Yunnan wild mushrooms, one’s journey to Yunnan is far from complete.

Of 2,000 species of edible mushrooms in the world, more than 600 grow in Yunnan. Outsiders look for matsutake, truffle, etc. But they are far from local’s favorite. To be honest, they are hardly unique. My personal favorites are: 干巴菌 (Gan Ba Jun) Thelephora Vialis, 鸡纵菌 (Ji Zong Jun) [Termitornyces albuminosus(Berk)Heim], 黄癞头 (Huang Lai Tou) Leccinum crocipodium (Letellier.) Watliag, 青头菌 (Qin Tou Jun) Russula Virescens (Schaeff.) Fr.[Agari-cus virescens Schaeff.], 鸡油菌(Ji You Jun) cantharelluscibariusfr.

Flavor of fresh wild mushrooms diminish quickly over time. Local people usually purchase the desired wild mushroom in local markets during season (late June – Early September) directly from farmers who picked them and transported them in.

Wild mushroom prices vary a lot based on the specie and its annual yield. Usually 干巴菌 (Gan Ba Jun) is the most expensive for its rarity. In 2010, for example, it fetches ~ 1000 RMB/kg which is around US $200/kg.  鸡纵菌 (Ji Zong Jun) is priced about 1/4- 1/5 of 干巴菌 (Gan Ba Jun). The more common 青头菌 (Qin Tou Jun) price is about 1/10 of 鸡纵菌 (Ji Zong Jun).

Each family has their own favorite way of cooking certain wild mushroom. But usually, the key is to keep it simple and to bring out the most flavor. Restaurants on the other hand hardly do this. Days old, water logged, not cleaned properly wild mushrooms are commonly served in restaurants. These mushrooms retain only a small fraction of its original flavor. Not surprisingly, restaurants won’t go for the simple dishes for this reason. Wild mushrooms either are not the main component of the dish and they add spices to flavor the dish, usually the mushroom flavor is drown out. Or they mix different kinds of mushrooms together and offer a dish cooked in the current trendy way, like grilling, hotpot. The subtlety and depth of flavor from different mushrooms are lost, only the strongest taste will emerge if it actually does. If I am food police, I would definitely say this is crime against nature’s wonder. Personally, I prefer each wild mushroom get cooked in the simplest way as possible, with fewest ingredients as possible to bring out its own unique taste to the fullest. To me, anything less than a solo performance is an insult to the wild mushroom.

It Is Perfect. Do Not Ever Change.

by Xiao

Sitting across the table from two top executives, hearing one say “Unlike academia, where meeting expectation is lowering yourself to the level of your peers. Here, the standard is consistently high with top notch people”. “It is like pro sports, the average performance is much higher.” The other one added. Are they serious? I looked at them again. They mentioned it half year ago, I thought they were just towing the company line. But clearly, they are not. The confidence is shining through them and they are beaming with pride.

This was the year end review I just went through. Working in a small size firm, I found myself going through the same level of bureaucracy as the international monster-sized company I worked for before. When a cat thinks itself a tiger, it is adorable. When a company acts as if it is perfect, it is disturbing. After experiencing it first-hand of the way the company operates, the quality of work it produces, I have hard time to imagine how the executives can truly believe in this grandeur illusion of the company.  Worked in both academia and industry with some truly talented people, I learned to be humble. Here, they keep asking for suggestions to improve the company, but choose to either plainly ignore the suggestions when received or try to hide the imperfection by thinking they are misunderstood when it is pointed out to them.  From simple repeated suggestions on dress code by both clients and employees, to the internal rejections on the practice of repackaging a single product which could be deemed vintage over and over again, all have been ignored. Grant it that they have certain image they wish to maintain. Yet, the professionalism they so pride themselves with is side by side with back-door policies for relative of executives, which I never thought I would see in America. Not to mentioned to top-quality product they produce is full of out of date hacks by people who learn to not care. OK, they are delusional. But if they think the company is perfect, why do they even bother to ask for suggestions on areas for improvement? Oh, right, the projection of a perfect company image demands it – “I am open to suggestions, though I know I am perfect.”

“Any questions?” The executives finished illustrating how wonderful this company is, once again. “Oh, no. You made it perfectly clear.” I smiled. “I know exactly what to improve on as an employee next time.” Yes, next time. I will simply say “As an employee of this company, it is perfect. Do not ever change.”

End of a Journey

by Xiao

Sitting on the hardwood floor of a downtown posh apartment, it does not feel like home, I have to admit, not because the lack of furniture, I am used to that. Instead, I could not help but thinking of my favorite rock from Alaska, which I fished out of a ice-cold river recommended for gold rush tourists, on the way to Purdoe Bay, Alaska. The naturally dagger-shaped river rock was broken last night during our move when we were trying not to disturb any neighbors. After the long journey, it is gone. It happens, I tell myself, but the sense of loss is unavoidable. We finished cleaning out the airstream, our home for the bigger part of last year. But I will choose it over any apartment, almost any time. Here, every time our “Green Monster” roars loudly among its usual luxury neighbors in the downstairs parking space, we know our fellow tenants think the neighborhood is going. With some of the hottest restaurants in town just cross the street, and the “big apple” just a train ride away, somehow, it is hard for me to feel belong, it is just convenient. Yes, if everything goes well, we will have the top 5, 10% household income in America again. But unless the job is interesting and meaningful, it is hard to compare the costs of different life styles.

Before we left Alaska, c said we would go back every year, but I knew it would not happen. Because once we are back to the life before, we would be back down to the dreaming stage again with the regularities called life. A week of driving from west coast to east coast, we stopped at “mountain top”, our first real campground. We waited for Roger and Margret to arrive. It was like back in the old days, even though it was not that long ago. But the journey of almost 20,000 miles inbetween certainly made it feel like ages ago. Even just the names of the places we visited are beyond my imagination, from “Hungry Horse”, to “White Horse”, to “Dead Horse”, just a taste. Now we are stationary again in the new year of 2009. I look back, and ask myself, am I wiser? I am not sure, but I do get to know myself better, though more questions come into my thoughts as usual. Experience makes who we are, and the journey certainly made a mark on us. I do have regrets, and from time to time do think maybe we should not have done it. In life, you gain some, you lose some. On this journey, we have been to places we would have never been to, we have met people we would never have crossed path. The truth is, it’s precious. For me, it is not just the pictures, the stories, or the memory. The journey was not just a journey, it was our life, we laughed and we cried; we were alive and we have changed. Now the journey ends, life contines.

Sleepless in Seattle

by Xiao

Sitting alone in our aluminum tube, surrounded by drying laundary, history channel showing a search for the lost ark, I am sleepless. All curtains drawn, it does not matter where I am, Seattle, Washington or Deadhorse, Alaska.

Read more »

The Alaskan Connection

by Xiao

When a bunch of fresh leafy rhubarbs and a pile of old Alaska magazines landed on our doorstep. We knew we had another friendly Alaskan encounter. In the beginning, I thought people were being extra nice to us because we were special. Two young PhD physicists from another continent, spending their summer in Alaska in a shining aluminum tube, the American way, not your average tourists. But I was wrong. When more and more people went out of their way to help us, offering valuable advice, sharing their favorite/secret locations of berry patch or fishing hole with us, without looking for anything in return, it was refreshing, to say the least. Without them, we are just passing through. Instead, we were invited into their lives, they showed us the true Alaska. I now know it was the Alaskans, not us, who are special. Read more »

Bear Watching vs People Viewing

by Xiao

The whole summer, we have read and heard bear stories almost every day. We have stopped to let grizzly sow and cub cross the road to graze. We have watched a black bear on a hill slope munching on grass while down below we were stuck in traffic. We have “stalked” a big grizzly on its way to the biggest blue berry patch in BC. A relaxing black bear rolling under the sun, nuzzling the flowers. Within couple of miles, another little black bear enjoyed its snack while kept a keen eye on the traffic. A Harley passed by, the black bear dashed into the bush. Seeing bears roaming in their own element, showing their personalities. This was a privilege. To be in the close distance to the bears, to look into their eyes, to see curiosity, annoyance, satisfaction. Pity those days are over.

Read more »

Fruit of Labor – In a Land of Abundance

by Xiao

After staying in Alaska for the whole summer, I came to realize that “frontier” is not just about the gold rush, the prospectors, or the untamed nature. It is also about the old way of living, where people and the land could still co-exist in balance, where the life style could still be sustainable, where people could still live with what nature provides, the subsistence living.

Read more »

The Perfect Beach

by Xiao

Picture this, clear sky with couple of clouds drifting, as far as your eyes can see, the dark blue ocean expands into horizon, and close by, waves are crashing, the mile long white sandy beach are only dotted by colorful seashells, clean and unbroken…

Read more »