Horse riding in BhutanDecember 18, 2023
Bhutan is famous for many things…. Including its rich culture, magnificent flora and fauna, jaw-dropping architecture and impeccable hospitality. Here’s one more thing the ‘Land of Happiness’ takes pride in: Mushrooms. DID YOU KNOW THAT THERE ARE OVER 400 VARIETIES OF MUSHROOMS IN BHUTAN? Let’s dig in deeper into these fungal beauties.
The Bhutanese love their mushrooms and even camp out for days on end in a forest during the harvest time of a favoured variety. Mushrooms also play an important role in local diets and traditional medicines. Guests can find them in markets and on roadsides. Villagers sell chanterelles, shiitake and coral mushrooms from overflowing bags. In rural areas during winter, when there’s little that can be picked fresh, mushrooms that were dried during the summer become a staple vegetable.
Broadly, mushrooms in Bhutan are categorised into – edible, edibility unknown, poisonous and inedible.
The most popular is the Tricholoma Matsutake. Also known as Sangay Shamu it is highly prized. There’s an interesting story of how it gained popularity. It was Aum Kuchum who first found the Matsutake in Bhutan. As she was selling her mushrooms in the vegetable market in Thimphu, they were recognised by a Japanese guest. He thought they were similar to the prized Japanese Matsutake. Thus, other villagers were quick to grab the opportunity and began harvesting the Matsutake for commercial sale. The mushroom itself – until then locally nicknamed Po Shamu because of its resemblance to a phallus – was rechristened as Sangay Shamu or Buddha’s mushroom. It was soon being picked and boxed up by the kilo and flown to fungi fans in Japan. The Sangay Shamu season starts in July and lasts through August and September.
The Bhutanese usually cook their mushrooms with chilli and cheese. Nowadays, a common simple dish is 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. 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. When Sangay Shamu is rare during autumn and winter, the Bhutanese would then make use of other mushrooms, such as gypsy, shitake, and oyster mushrooms.
Matsutake mushrooms are becoming rarer. They cannot be cultivated and grown in large numbers domestically. Japanese researchers could only produce a related Baka Matsutake mushroom with an almost similar aroma profile to the wild variant. The very distinct appearance of Sangay Shamu is heavily infused with spicy and earthy flavours and juice that is both complex and irreplicable in the lab.
Outside of Sangay Shamu season, the mushroom is replaced with other mushrooms like the gypsy, shitake, and oyster mushrooms.
MATSUTAKE MUSHROOM FESTIVAL
The Genekha village (45 minutes from Thimphu) hosts the annual mushroom festival during the second week of August while Ura village in Bumthang celebrates the Matsutake Mushroom festival also annually during the third or fourth week of August. The objective of the festivals are to create awareness about the sustainable harvesting of the local mushroom and enjoy the organic natural flavours of nature.
The festivals showcase interesting activities and experiences such as mushroom picking excursions, sampling delicious mushroom dishes, cultural performances by locals and school children and local sports activities. 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.