Bhutan is home to one of the most expensive mushrooms in the world
There is even a festival for it, known as the Matsutake Mushroom Festival. There, you’ll get to sample various dishes prepared with this mushroom.
The Matsutake mushroom is one of the most expensive mushrooms in the world.
It can not be farmed.
It can only grow directly underneath pine trees, below a cover of leaves, almost underground, while deep in the mountain forest. It depends on the host tree to grow, and thus has a symbiotic relationship with its roots. Those are pretty specific conditions.
Moreover, the Matsutake mushroom is slowly losing its habitats, no thanks to climate change.
Due to their rarity, it is no wonder that they cost so much. A rough estimate puts them at $1,000 to $4,000 per kilogram!
About Matsutake mushrooms
Matsutake mushrooms are thick and fat. You can identify them by their smell, which has an organic odour. The white surface has brown stains that make it look grimy.
Taste-wise, it has a meaty texture and is juicy. Some people describe it as ‘spicy’ or ‘cinnamon’. It is very pungent and can overcome the other ingredients with it in a dish. Hence, when you eat it, it is advisable to slice thickly to preserve the flavour.
In fact, there are people who enjoy eating the Matsutake mushrooms raw! They claim that it is the best way to experience the mushroom’s full flavour and aroma. Of course, they pull off the stem and scrub the top first, then season it with some oil and salt.
While the mushroom is considered a delicacy around the world, it is particularly popular in Japan. There, the mushroom is often used in sukiyaki, a steamboat type dish with dashi, sake, mirin, and sugar. They are also found in matsutake gohan, a dish of steamed rice with kombu dashi, soy sauce, sake, and mirin.
Given its popularity, Japanese scientists have tried to grow them in the lab, but the best they could produce was the Bakamatsutake mushroom with an aroma that is similar to their counterparts.
Unfortunately, these lab-created variants lack the spicy and earthy flavours found in the original wild ones.
Matsutake mushroom in Bhutan
The Matsutake mushroom can be found in Bhutan, known as Sangay Shamu, and is highly prized.
The Sangay Shamu season starts in July and lasts through August and September.
The Bhutanese usually cook these mushrooms with chilli and cheese. Nowadays, a common dish is a simple soup known as the Shamu Datshi. The savoury cuisine is made with Matsutake mushrooms, vegetables, a pinch of salt, and cheese. The mushrooms provide most of the flavours infused in the soup, whereas the cheese provides a creamy texture. Outside of Sangay Shamu season, the mushroom is replaced with other mushrooms like the gypsy, shitake, and oyster mushrooms.
Sangay Shamu is native to the forest in the Ura Valley in Bumthang and Genekha in Thimphu, where they grow clusters at the base of pine trees — both are known for their mushroom harvest.
Once a year during harvesting season, the locals walk through the valley to collect Sangay Shamu. The government of Bhutan legalised mushroom-picking to empower the people of these two villages.
Matsutake Mushroom Festival
There are foreigners who would specially travel to Bhutan in the autumn for the Sangay Shamu.
Noting the popularity of the mushroom, the Tourism Council of Bhutan started the Matsutake Mushroom Festival, held annually in Ura and Genekha in mid-August every year.
It is a three-day festival to celebrate the harvest of the wild Sangay Shamu in Bhutan. It is to create awareness on sustainable harvesting.
The festival is organised by the gewog administration and mushroom management group. They teamed up with the national mushroom centre, the Department of Agriculture (DOA), and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MOAF).
For the public, the festival is an opportunity to sample the mushroom in the form of different dishes. As you might expect, there is also a range of other Bhutanese cuisines to devour.
You’ll also learn about mushroom hunting and watch cultural programmes prepared by the local community. And as with most Bhutanese festivals, there are masked dances too.
The Matsutake mushrooms are getting rarer
The Matsutake mushroom is becoming increasingly rare all over the world. For one, the mushroom’s natural habitat, the red pine forest, has come under attack from the pinewood nematode, an invasive worm that originated from North America. Not to mention climate change.
Just like the rest of the world, Bhutan is facing climate change. Glaciers are melting, affecting the ground condition and making it less ideal for the growth of the mushroom. At the rate we’re going, the Sangay Shamu won’t be around for long.
Therefore, book your trip to Bhutan after the pandemic! Grab the opportunity to visit the Matsutake Mushroom Festival and taste Shamu Datshi for yourself. Word on the street is that you might even get to sample these exorbitantly priced mushrooms for free!