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April 2021
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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.

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