A mould by any other name would be given raw treatment at the hands of humans. Mushrooms however have this way of dodging classification and winging into the realms of fantasy. It is the matter of much-loved children’s stories and forms the cosy backdrop to bed time tales populated with dwarves, elves, fairies and the stuff of dreamland. 

One of the most commonly consumed mushrooms in the world is the white button mushroom, a favourite addition to soups and salads, that’s widely cultivated and available in groceries. I’d venture to suggest that Chinese cuisine would suffer a major loss of identity without this star player. A variety called Chinese mushrooms, also referred to as shiitake which grows primarily in China and Japan are the most commonly used variety in Chinese cooking. The mild-flavoured straw mushrooms are also a preferred addition to Chinese recipes. The crunchy Wood Ear Fungi, also called the cloud ear mushroom is a common ingredient in Szechuan cuisine. 

There’s the highly prized variety known as enoki which grows in bunches of needle-like stems. It has a mild, grape-like flavour and is valued as a delicacy in a number of regions of the Far East. Mushrooming or mushroom-hunting is a deeply-entrenched tradition in Russia, and a number of Russian family names draw from the names of mushrooms. It’s said that Lenin had quite a thing going for mushrooms, a passion that even has a name of its own in Russian - razh. 

There are the honeycomb morels which are a common ingredient in the traditional cuisine of the historic Provencal region in the South of France and a favourite of French gourmet cooks. And then there is “the diamond of the kitchen” – truffles – which are a staple of international haute cuisine. 

If you find yourself in Chennai anytime between the 28th of July and the 8th of August, you may want to drive down to Sheraton Park Hotel and Towers for a ten-course menu at On The Rocks, featuring delectable mushrooms from around the world - morels, porcini, truffles and just about the whole range most of us have probably only fantasised about till now. This is your chance to dig into the earthy pleasures of the mushroom. 

For more information, please visit the Gourmet Guide