26 Jul 2023

Matsutake Mushroom Festival

Nature’s Gourmet Gift For Foodies

Its July and foodies in Bhutan are getting restless. The much-awaited Matsutake mushroom harvesting time is coming up and mouthwatering visions of gourmet dishes are haunting their dreams.

Today even as a visitor you can join the farmers who camp out for the season in the forests near national capital Thimphu. Pitch your tent under the stars and go mushroom foraging with these experts, for whom it’s a source of income, and will guide you on culling the poisonous mushrooms from the good ones. So do listen carefully. It’s quite an art.

Did you know that because of the increasing loss of natural habitat The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has placed the matsutake mushroom on its list of threatened species? An edible mycorrhizal fungus, the Matsutake mushroom (Tricholoma matsutake), is revered as a rare gift of nature which only surfaces for about two months in a year in its natural state in the months of August and September. Matsutake mushrooms grow wild and are impossible to cultivate on a farm. The monsoon rains, the moist soil of the forest floor and nutrients from the pine and fir trees close to the roots of which they are found, activate these dormant lives. When ready they provide basketsful of the delicacy to be consumed at home or in city restaurants. These are large mushrooms featuring a thick white stem and a light beige cap. They are considered as one of the rarest and most expensive mushrooms in the world.

There are two places in Bhutan, Genekha, a serene village in Thimphu and the gorgeous Ura Valley in Bhumthang, where this is an annual phenomenon occurs, so it’s quite an event. The fact that the mushroom also referred to as “wild pine mushroom,” is so popular in Japan and other countries will tell you how big a deal this coveted delicacy is for hot tables. It’s said that Japan holds it in such high esteem people have been moved to pen a haiku or two about it! Packed with nutritions, ‘Sangay Shamu’ as it’s known locally, is a flavoursome, succulent and aromatic delight. And the fact that its available only in its natural state for such a short period, ensures that it’s a prized domestic as well as export produce for Bhutan.

The Matsutake Mushroom festival offers insights into the economic contributions of the mushrooms for the community as well as its cultural importance. The festival also puts the spotlight on the growing importance of sustainable harvesting of the local mushroom, apart from the delicious dishes you can help in preparing them and also sampling yummy ones such as the matsutake mushroom soup. The mushroom, with its pungent, spicy, piney flavour and rich meaty texture is so tasty, simple dishes are the way to bring out its best features. They can be cooked or even eaten raw as a side dish.

In Bumthang’s Ura Valley, the mushroom harvesting season draws hundreds of people including foodies and tourists to indulge in a gourmet adventure at the 3-day festival. Mushroom foraging and tasting are par for the course at the event which also highlights the importance of Bhutan’s pursuit of sustainable agriculture and ecotourism. It also showcases the rural lifestyle of the local Urap community. The Ura Valley is just an hour and half drive away from Jakar town.

If you’ve plans to travel Bhutan in the rainy season, time it to enjoy the rare delights of the Mushroom Festival and the rich cultural experience it showcases. 

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