Melissa MacEwan | The Roaming Fork

 

To say that I like mushrooms would be the understatement of the year. I don’t just like mushrooms – I love them. I think they’re cute. I love their weird, rubbery texture. I love their umami. I love that they’re so, so easy to cook. It therefore shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that I had a ball at Chinatown’s C Mart Supermarket the other day. See, though Asian cooking might involve a lot of unusual ingredients, it also relies heavily on the basics, including pseudo-veggies like the humble mushroom (mushrooms aren’t technically vegetables – they’re actually more closely related to humans than to plants, but we don’t need to get into that). I went to C Mart in search of durians, but I came home with two additional packages: black fungus and snow fungus.

Though I had intended to cook the snow fungus first, I caved and ended up opening the black fungus box in a fit of hunger after finishing off the last of my dried pasta. It turns out that my impulse purchase was a surprisingly good one: the box boasted that black fungus – also known as Judas ear, cloud ear or wood ear – is the “king of vegetarian cuisine” and that it contains high levels of fiber, iron, selenium and phosphorus. The mushrooms are also said to promote blood circulation and to remove impurities from the body. Not bad! I knew the mushrooms were dried, but I didn’t realize they were compressed. After I soaked them in water, my mushrooms turned from a tiny black pellet into an enormous bowl of surprisingly appealing, ear-shaped fungus. I made a roux, chopped up some garlic and stir-fried everything together. True to their reputation, the mushrooms remained delightfully crispy and absorbed the flavor of the garlic, salt and pepper nicely.

That night, I tackled the snow fungus. These mushrooms are often used as replacements for birds’ nests and are said to promote lung health. Another trip to C Mart yielded the necessary ingredients – goji berries, dried red dates, dried lily buds and dried lotus seeds – for snow fungus soup, and then I was essentially done. All I needed to do was add the ingredients to a pot and let everything simmer together for four hours before adding sugar to taste. Unfortunately, I’m not sure those four hours were well spent. I did everything right, as far as I can tell. The rock-hard lily buds and lotus seeds softened delectably, and the soup’s “broth” subtly took on the flavor of the dates and the goji berries. As a whole, though, it was entirely different story. After four hours, the mushrooms had expanded until they physically dominated the soup, and they had turned it into a slimy, mucous-y substance that dangled clear and stringy from the spoon that I hesitantly lifted to my mouth. Stirring the soup created bubbles that never went away. I tried to enjoy it, but I could only eat about half a bowl before giving up. The dish had a fine, delicate flavor, to be sure, but I just couldn’t stomach the texture.

Still, I’m not particularly concerned that I didn’t like this particular mushroom preparation. Asian cuisine uses a cornucopia of different mushroom species and the snow fungus is the only one that I have vehemently disliked. It is also worth noting that American cuisine includes relatively few gelatinous ingredients – Jell-O is really the only one I can think of – while Asian cuisine includes plenty. I have been perfectly happy to eat sea cucumber, seaweed and squid, but I seem to have hit a wall here. Taste is subjective, after all. Maybe the snow fungus and I will reconcile in the future.

 

To say that I like mushrooms would be the understatement of the year. I don’t just like mushrooms – I love them. I think they’re cute. I love their weird, rubbery texture. I love their umami. I love that they’re so, so easy to cook. It therefore shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that I had a ball at Chinatown’s C Mart Supermarket the other day. See, though Asian cooking might involve a lot of unusual ingredients, it also relies heavily on the basics, including pseudo-veggies like the humble mushroom (mushrooms aren’t technically vegetables – they’re actually more closely related to humans than to plants, but we don’t need to get into that). I went to C Mart in search of durians, but I came home with two additional packages: black fungus and snow fungus.

Though I had intended to cook the snow fungus first, I caved and ended up opening the black fungus box in a fit of hunger after finishing off the last of my dried pasta. It turns out that my impulse purchase was a surprisingly good one: the box boasted that black fungus – also known as Judas ear, cloud ear or wood ear – is the “king of vegetarian cuisine” and that it contains high levels of fiber, iron, selenium and phosphorus. The mushrooms are also said to promote blood circulation and to remove impurities from the body. Not bad! I knew the mushrooms were dried, but I didn’t realize they were compressed. After I soaked them in water, my mushrooms turned from a tiny black pellet into an enormous bowl of surprisingly appealing, ear-shaped fungus. I made a roux, chopped up some garlic and stir-fried everything together. True to their reputation, the mushrooms remained delightfully crispy and absorbed the flavor of the garlic, salt and pepper nicely.

That night, I tackled the snow fungus. These mushrooms are often used as replacements for birds’ nests and are said to promote lung health. Another trip to C Mart yielded the necessary ingredients – goji berries, dried red dates, dried lily buds and dried lotus seeds – for snow fungus soup, and then I was essentially done. All I needed to do was add the ingredients to a pot and let everything simmer together for four hours before adding sugar to taste. Unfortunately, I’m not sure those four hours were well spent. I did everything right, as far as I can tell. The rock-hard lily buds and lotus seeds softened delectably, and the soup’s “broth” subtly took on the flavor of the dates and the goji berries. As a whole, though, it was entirely different story. After four hours, the mushrooms had expanded until they physically dominated the soup, and they had turned it into a slimy, mucous-y substance that dangled clear and stringy from the spoon that I hesitantly lifted to my mouth. Stirring the soup created bubbles that never went away. I tried to enjoy it, but I could only eat about half a bowl before giving up. The dish had a fine, delicate flavor, to be sure, but I just couldn’t stomach the texture.

Still, I’m not particularly concerned that I didn’t like this particular mushroom preparation. Asian cuisine uses a cornucopia of different mushroom species and the snow fungus is the only one that I have vehemently disliked. It is also worth noting that American cuisine includes relatively few gelatinous ingredients – Jell-O is really the only one I can think of – while Asian cuisine includes plenty. I have been perfectly happy to eat sea cucumber, seaweed and squid, but I seem to have hit a wall here. Taste is subjective, after all. Maybe the snow fungus and I will reconcile in the future.

 

Melissa MacEwen is a junior majoring in biology and English. She can be reached at Melissa.Macewen@tufts.edu.

 


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