Friday, August 28, 2015

Foraging for Mushrooms

Mushroom season!!! Of all Chinese provinces, Yunnan has the best wild mushrooms! What more we are already at the right altitude to grab them fresh. While there're more than 600 species sprouting across Yunnan, probably only about half are edible. Don't randomly eat them. Check with the locals.

In the northern Yunnan, we could get chanterelle (鸡油菌), morel (羊肚菌), porcini (牛肝菌), berk heim (鸡纵菌), ganba (干巴菌), bamboo (竹荪菌), et cetera, and of course the jeweled top-grade pine mushroom or what we know as 'matsutake' (松茸,纳西语称“裕茂萝”). The for-real matsutake with caps both closed and opened. Just so you know, Bhutan's mountains produce the same matsutake too.

The eateries in town sell loads of mushrooms; further south, a pot of stir-fried average quality of matsutake goes for S$26 (~ ¥120) per portion that's good for maybe... three persons. We've had tons of mushrooms and can't stop eating them. Similar to what you get in Bhutan and Europe, Shangri-La's altitude gives it a richly diverse profile of wild mushrooms. One could cultivate them of course, but the fun is in the foraging. We did that a couple of times. Mushrooms are addictive and all of us love it. A good reason as any to go exploring the area on not-too-rainy mornings.

One morning, we climbed up up and up to nibble on sour berries and fill our baskets. The same woven baskets you see the ladies carry to the market and fields. Had a good haul. Glorious. It was a cloudy morning- that meant our mushrooms were extra juicy. Woohooo. Met an elderly couple on their way down from the mountains. They had one full basket of mushrooms from a fruitful morning of foraging and showed us what they had. They were going to sell it at the market in town. For all that effort, we decided to buy their basket and relieve them of that trip. Hahahaha. Went back down to the campsite for a late lunch. Farm to table freshness, OH YES.

Meals are kept simple. It's not a gastronomic trip. Food sustains our energy and spirits for the daily toil. We eat what the locals usually have. Told the team that if they want chicken, they would have to go chase down one and slaughter it themselves. HAHAHAHAH. The locals like to have the mushrooms in hotpot and all that. But we very much prefer to enjoy the mushrooms' full flavors by grilling them with the barest hint of oil and a light sprinkling of salt. Oh you know, some of us actually brought along coarse pink Himalayan salt and tiny bottles of olive oil. LOL.

The camp kitchen a-yis had prepared flatbreads (粑粑) and the local short-grained almost-sticky rice (米饭), thin slices of spiced yak and stir-fried greens. They had set up the grill for the meat and to await our mushrooms. OH DELICIOUSNESS. Best meals ever.

The paths up the mountains aren't exactly smooth. They're mostly crudely eked out, steep, muddy and rocky. Navigating them required some skills that we city folks don't quite possess. Most walks are done in under three hours. There have been days when five-hour treks are a must. No issues with altitude at all. The team prepped for it. We began slow, but once we got used to the paths, we started uhhh... walking really fast. Not quite sprinting. At this rate, my butt and thighs are getting really trim. With the meal portions and level of fats being strictly controlled, I could feel the muscles tighten day by day and the entire body getting thoroughly conditioned. AWESOMESAUCE.

No comments: