Besides the cooler temperature that comes with the autumn breeze, the aroma of fall also gently rolls across the country as many of Japan’s favorite ingredients come into season. One natural ingredient that sprouts up in autumn are mushrooms. This is an important element of Japanese food in the autumn season. If you happened to visit Japan in fall, you will certainly agree with locals that autumn is one of the best seasons for Japanese food.
Autumn Season Matsutake Mushrooms
In Japan’s autumn season, matsutake mushrooms sprout up, delighting foodies in Japan. Amazingly, matsutake mushrooms are the world’s most expensive fungi! In fact, these treats can cost up to 2,000USD per kilogram. With that in mind, it is easier to see how these fragrant matsutake mushrooms are compared to truffles.
Matsutake in English translates to “pine mushroom”. That’s because matsutake mushrooms are found at the foot of pine trees. Based on their high price, you’d be right to assume that these prized mushrooms are difficult to find. They are harvested in September from pine forests in various locations around the world.
Japanese Food with Autumn Season Matsutake Mushrooms
Even in a country that prides itself in its seasonal cuisine, autumn Japanese food stands above the rest in the minds of many people. The earthy, pungent taste of the matsutake mushroom is used to flavor many autumn Japanese dishes. The flavor and aroma of matsutake mushrooms perfectly set the scene of fall in Japan. Besides adding flavor to autumn Japanese food, you can even find matsutake shochu, a Japanese alcohol.
Matsutake Gohan is one of the most iconic dishes that uses this flavorful autumn mushroom. This dish is made up of seasoned rice with matsutake mushrooms and perfectly encapsulates the essence of autumn in Japan. Matsutake Gohan is especially delicious because fall is the season for shinmai, or “new rice” that has been freshly harvested. This rice apparently has higher water content, giving it greater texture and flavor. Combined with matsutake and other autumn ingredients, this is a Japanese food that you should definitely try in Japan if you visit in the fall.
Like truffles, matsutake mushrooms are difficult to cultivate on a farm because of their specific environmental requirements. As a result, many of the matsutake you find at grocery stores are foraged by devoted matsutake hunters. However, there is great competition from other foragers and wildlife within the limited pine forests where matsutake mushrooms grow. The Tamba region in Kyoto Prefecture is most famous for matsutake mushrooms. In fact, the area has been associated with matsutake mushrooms since old days. However, Nagano Prefecture produces the most matsutake in Japan.
Though matsutake mushrooms are beloved, too much of a good thing could mean trouble for these prized fungi. They are considered a vulnerable species these days as deforestation threatens their preferred environment and demand continues to increase.
For the moment, there is plenty to go around, so be sure to grab a bowl of matsutake gohan in the autumn season in Japan.
Shun (旬) translates directly into “season”, but strictly speaking in Japan refers to the ten days in which a food (be it a fruit, vegetable, fish or dish) is deemed to be at its tastiest and best period in which it is to be eaten. 季節（kisetsu), which also translates into “season”, refers to six periods within each season (spring, summer, autumn, winter), according to the solar calendar in which a change in the season is deemed to occur – an indication of the Japanese sensitivity to changes in the weather and climate, and its impact on crops and catches of the day. 「A Taste of Sh旬n」aims to bring you the freshest and best harvests, catches and dishes of the day.