The versatile — and sustainable — mushroom varies country to country, making it a cultural Easter egg that varies based on dish and destination.

By Kaitlyn McInnis
April 22, 2019
Ditte Isager/Courtesy of Noma

The culinary world owes a lot to whoever first discovered the magic of mushrooms. Fungus — from everyday cremini to decadent morels — is an undeniable gift from nature. A vegetarian’s delight, the fleshy, umami-packed vegetable offers an unparalleled, meaty addition to everything from soup and sauces to pasta and pastries.

But the best thing about mushrooms? They occur naturally all over the world. Unlike a lot of seasonal or state-side veggies, like squash or corn, the versatile — and sustainable — mushroom varies country to country, making it a cultural Easter egg that varies based on dish and destination.

You don’t have to stick to truffles or morels, either. What’s great about mushrooms is that the everyday cremini or enoki mushroom can be just as decadent when prepared properly. An enoki-packed bowl of ramen in Tokyo can be just as satisfying as a fresh truffle butter pasta in Piedmont. Whatever your culinary preference may be, here’s where to travel to satisfy your inner fungus fiend.

Brussels, Belgium

Europe is home to a wide variety of decadent and everyday mushrooms, but to get a taste of the entire European fungi spectrum, head to Café des Spores. This decidedly cool, but surprisingly affordable bistro nestled in the trendy Saint Gilles neighbourhood serves mushrooms in every single dish — including dessert. While the menu changes seasonally, expect everything from porcini and cheese croquettes to mussels with Jerusalem artichokes and black chanterelles.

Rotterdam, Netherlands

While mushrooms are, for the most part, naturally occuring, two friends from Rotterdam took fungus production into their own hands by collecting coffee grinds from cafés across the city and growing no-waste oyster mushrooms. Known as Rotterzwam, the innovative mushroom producers now supply many local restaurants and continue to operate in a sustainable manner, fostering a no-waste ecosystem across the city.

Mexico City, Mexico

Think mushrooms only grow in meadows and woods? Think again. Huitlacoche — otherwise known as corn smut, or, more elegantly put, Mexican truffle — is technically a plant disease that spreads into ears of corn but tastes undeniably decadent. The blue-black spores are considered a delicacy, and are best served on huarache or tostadas. Head to the Mercado de Coyoacán just around the corner from the Frida Kahlo museum, for a huitlacoche tostado — or two. And unlike traditional truffle dishes, a huitlacoche tostada will run you less than a dollar.

Vancouver, British Columbia

The West Coast of Canada has some of the most vast, biodiverse wilderness in all of North America — making it a great spot to forage for fungi. Just outside of Vancouver, there are countless forests plenty with everything from chanterelles to lobster mushrooms. Many fishing resorts, like Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, offer foraging classes from experts — and actually incorporate the wild mushrooms guests find into their meals.

Kyoto, Japan

Home to the traditional Japanese Kaiseki set meal, Kyoto has some of the most three-Michelin starred restaurants in the world. It goes without saying, you’ll have no problem finding some of the best sashimi and tofu of your life. But Kyoto also has a handle on Sansai (Japanese mountain vegetables) including mushrooms unique to Japan such as matsutake, nameko, and maitake. If you’re in the mood to be spoiled, head to Michelin-starred Kichisen for a multi-course Kaiseki dinner, complete with fresh foraged Sansai, expertly prepared and presented. Be sure to make a reservation in advance.

Piedmont, Italy

The truffle is one of the most sought-after mushrooms in the world — and for good reason. Synonymous with decadence and fine dining, truffles are seasonally harvested in autumn until December and are otherwise considerably hard to come by. While travelers opt for guided foraging trips throughout Italy, The International Alba Truffle Fair — just outside of Piedmont — draws local restaurateurs, renowned chefs, and tourists alike to appreciate and purchase the best truffles Italy has to offer. The fair runs from early October to late November.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen is home to the infamous Noma. A bucket list item for many, Noma strives for culinary perfection — from taste and atmosphere to sustainability. Their seasonal ingredients are locally foraged, meaning mushrooms regularly act as the star of the show. Be sure to book far in advance, the two-Michelin-star restaurant by chef René Redzepi is not easy to get into — but it’s worth planning for.

Kennett Square, Pennsylvania

Don’t have the time for an international trip at the moment? Just head to Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, which boasts the largest — and tastiest — selection of mushroom in the U.S. The Woodlands at Phillips Mushroom Farms (just outside of Kennett Square) offers cooking demonstrations with local chefs, a selection of handpicked mushroom varieties (think everything from cremini and shiitake to royal trumpet and lion’s mane), as well as a quirky mushroom exhibit — which shows the mushroom-growing process, from start to finish.

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