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A trip to Kunming's mushroom district

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Clockwise from bottom left: jisongrong, matsutake, laorentou and yellow niuganjun
Clockwise from bottom left: jisongrong, matsutake, laorentou and yellow niuganjun

The rainy summer months are upon us and wild mushroom collection is in full swing across the mountainous regions to the northwest of Kunming, so rather than work we thought we'd head out in search of a Yunnan classic: wild mushroom hot pot.

Wild mushroom hot pot is available all over Kunming, but we decided to head to Guanshang's locally famous mushroom hot pot district to try our luck. The epicenter of this district is the intersection of Guanxing Lu (关兴路) and Jinzhi Lu (金汁路) – walk in any direction from this intersection and you'll come across several mushroom hot pot options.

A friend left us his VIP discount card for Wild Fungus Garden restaurant when he left Kunming, so we decided to head there for a steaming pot of 'shrooms.

It is estimated that up to 800 different kinds of edible wild mushrooms are harvested in Yunnan. Most restaurants only stock a few dozen fresh varieties at any given time, so the selection varies from one restaurant to the next.

That said, there are some "classic" Yunnan mushrooms available at every restaurant, such as yellow and black niuganjun (牛肝菌), members of the boletus genus, of which the most famous mushroom in Western cuisine is the porcini. Another Yunnan specialty is the songrong (松茸), most commonly known by its Japanese name, matsutake.

These mushrooms can be stir-fried, but eating them as Chinese hotpot is a very Kunming experience. We chose a few kinds of mushrooms from the display fridge and also selected a broth plus some vegetables, tofu skin and clear noodles.

It should be stated up front that eating wild mushrooms can be much more expensive than the average Kunming dinner. At Wild Fungus Garden the most expensive mushrooms, yangdu jun (羊肚菌), a type of morel, were selling for 168 yuan per small plate.

We settled for something slightly more reasonable and ordered matsutake (88 yuan), yellow niuganjun (黄牛肝菌, 69 yuan), laorentou jun (老人头菌, 38 yuan), and jisongrong (姬松茸, 26 yuan).

Slightly different from traditional hot pot, the wait staff at wild mushroom restaurants cook the mushrooms for customers, adding different varieties at different times to ensure they are thoroughly cooked and customers aren't poisoned.

Our waitress first added the niuganjun and laorentou, forbidding even so much as a chopstick entering the broth for 20 minutes while the mushrooms cooked and their toxins broke down in the boiling water. A few minutes later, she added the jisongrong and then the matsutake.

After 20 restless minutes, our mushroom mixture had cooked up into an earthy, umami-laden soup. The mushrooms themselves ranged from firm to slimy and varied subtly in taste. Their flavors were enhanced by dips into small bowls of spicy dipping sauce and lufu. Once we'd polished off the fungi, we threw in the veggies, tofu and noodles and grazed until it was all gone.

Without ordering any meat or alcohol, our bill for three came to 245 yuan – even with a 15 percent discount. Although it was a bit pricy by Kunming standards, our bellies were full of good food and we could scratch one more item off of our Kunming to-do list.

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Comments

Carmen

I do love mushrooms, wish I could be there!!!!!

xiefeilaga

To savor the flavor and texture of individual types of mushrooms, the best way is a nice clean stir-fry, with maybe a touch of garlic and green hot peppers.

Mushroom hotpot is all about the broth. Get the lightest broth you can, preferably the mushroom one (chicken broth destroys it), and drink a bowl or two between each batch of mushrooms.

God I miss Kunming.

Annie Zhao

Such a nice wild mushroom feast!

My boyfriend and I like the Yunnan mushrooms same as you. Now is the mushroom off season. But you can still enjoy them. Because the local people are good at storaging mushrooms. Salted, dried mushrooms can be found in the market. There are many fungi vendors at Nanping Street, Panlong Zone, Kunming.

A good news is I am working at a frozen boletus eulis (牛肝菌) exportation company. We have a factory in Chuxiong City. My factory in charge of collecting and storage the fresh boletus eulis (牛肝菌) from the local farmers. Process them into slice, cube, whole and half-cut styles. Individually quick frozen the boletus and storage into the cooling warehouse, and ready to sell. IQF procession is for keeping the max. nutrition and taste.

www.yztfoods.com is my company website
annie.zhao2010@gmail.com

drphunk

what if you did want some of these pesky hallucinations?

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