The cooler temperatures and the change of foliage herald the arrival of autumn, probably the best eating season in Japan. The tables were filled with kabocha pumpkins, sparkling chestnuts, fresh rice, rich fish and of course mushrooms of all shapes and sizes.
When looking for interesting soil-based ingredients, you must head to Yamagata Prefecture, one of the top three mushroom-consuming regions in Japan. The province’s climate and topography make it an ideal place for fungi to grow, with significant differences in temperature between day and night, adequate humidity, and a place away from strong winds. As such, many local specialties feature beloved mushrooms, such as Kinoko Jiru soup, Kinoko gohan (mushroom rice) and imoni mushroom pot (outdoor) hot pot.
In Japan, mushrooms are divided into two groups: wild, local kinoko (more often associated with Japanese cuisine) and farm-grown masshurūmu mushrooms, which are imported and often used in style dishes. The West.
In the face of global concerns about the food supply chain caused by COVID-19, there has been an increase in interest in foraging around the world, including Japan. Ikuko Sato is one of the founding members of Yamagata Kinoko no Kai and is a recognized master of mushrooms (kinoko meijin). Although she is often busy running her mushroom restaurant and holding mushroom safety sessions – an important topic, as every year over-confident foragers die from ingesting poison mushrooms – belief Her main passion is going up the mountains on her own in search of delicious wild mushrooms.
Sato says she has seen an increase in young potential mushroom hunters joining her events. She believes that bringing them into the forest and cooking bounties on the spot will make it easier for newcomers to learn about kinoko and sansai (mountain vegetables) that are an important part of Yamagata regional cuisine. “Every type of kinoko is different, and its texture and acidity make it a very versatile ingredient,” she said.
“There’s a lot of competition, I have to outdo all the ‘competitors’ who are also out here in search of mushrooms,” she said with a smile as she stopped at an empty lot by the side of the road. As if to prove their point, an old couple, carrying a bamboo basket, rushed out of the forest to show off their harvest.
“This year has been a short season, as it hasn’t cooled as soon as usual,” Sato continued. “Kinoko are very delicate, they require a special balance between cool and warm temperature and humidity in order to grow. This year, the season starts almost three weeks late, and will end as soon as the first snow falls, so we all got in.
But to find good quality mushrooms do not need to walk through the forest. At Funagata Mushroom, the third largest masshurūmu farm in Japan, you can buy a reliable Agaricus bisporus mushroom, commonly known as immature button or cremini and portobello as an adult. Originally from Europe and North America, Chairman Mitsuyoshi Nagasawa is currently developing these popular imports in large quantities.
“We harvest about 4 tons of white and brown mushrooms per day, grown on organic peat mixed with plant-only compost,” Nagasawa said as he showed off houses with long domes. . Nothing is wasted, as the used cropland, once disinfected, is in high demand as compost for orchards and farms.
Besides the farm’s organic certification, Nagasawa is also fervent about avoiding the use of plastic packaging. “The supermarket mushrooms are coated with plastic and let the steam condense, they will lose their flavor within 24 hours. All of our mushrooms are packaged in cardboard and newspaper, so they stay dry and cool when refrigerated, ”he explained as he handed a small brown mushroom to sample. The tiny mushroom has an umami taste with a hint of chestnut, surprisingly reminiscent of wild varieties sought by foragers in the Yamagata mountains.
However, unlike the secret nature of the kinoko hunting grounds in Yamagata, the farm’s restaurant, the Mushroom Stand, has a steady stream of customers stopping by to buy unpacked mushrooms from a cooler near the entrance. For those lucky diners who can grab one of the tables, each order comes with an unlimited amount of freshly sliced mushrooms, all harvested just a short walk away.
Curious eateries can experience the story of these two mushrooms on their own, as this fall might be the best time to visit less crowded areas on one of the JR East versions limit and taste all the flavors of the season.