I once dined at a really nice restaurant on the outskirts of Singapore’s famous shopping strip, Orchard Road. It was one of those places with an incompletely spelt name, but you knew better than to ask what everybody else could obviously read. It was a sophisticated place. Even dressed in comfortable jeans and my favourite hawaii shirt, the moment we walked in I immediately felt sophisticated.
I think it was one of those uber modern restaurants that presented a deconstructed menu. When dishes were served, instead of different ingredients combining to create new flavours, every nibble-sized piece sat apart from each other, hogging its own spot on those huge, beautiful plates. I admit to not being a fine-dining expert. That evening I made a calculated guess that I was indeed indulging in edible deconstructivism. I can’t clearly recall what I ate and to this day I regret that deeply, because I remember it was a most special and enjoyable evening otherwise.
But thankfully not all is lost. Despite my vague impressions of that evening’s culinary parade, I reserve a singular vivid memory: that of the Mushroom Soup!
I remember reading on the menu “Essence of wild forest mushrooms”, and thinking I’ll order that because I know what mushroom soup is, even if I didn’t understand most of the menu.
A short while later, a waiter placed in front of me a porcelain Chinese soup spoon resting on a small saucer. The spoon cradled a red marble that looked like it had translucent rubber skin instead of glass. I was getting excited. I’d been served the soup spoon, surely the mushroom soup must be arriving soon. My more knowledgeable date looked at me expectantly. I returned a pleased look, and then glanced anticipatively in the direction of the kitchen.
“That’s the soup”, she said. “Great, I’m hungry! Where?” I replied. There, in front of me, in the soup spoon, that translucent red marble – Soup! Really? Everyone knew. I was supposed to know, too.
I eyed that small red globe disbelievingly, sniffed it to try to catch a whiff of mushroom essence. I knew I had to put it in my mouth eventually, because it was that kind of restaurant which wouldn’t serve the second course before the first was done. I’d never had a marble for a course before, but I thought of first-times and with that lifted the spoon to my lips, and let the marble roll into my mouth and come to rest on my tongue.
And then all my senses of taste, smell, texture … Exploded in a world of essence of mushrooms. I was in a forest of wild mushrooms. I felt soft breezes and heard fuzzy forest sounds. Ok, that was because I’d closed my eyes to prolong the savouring of that moment. But you get the picture. Who’d have thought that little red marble contained all that? I certainly didn’t. And to tell the truth I’ve not had a better mushroom soup since.
I’ve always found mushrooms delicious, but I know some people don’t like them. Afterall, mushrooms are chemically potent and thus have quite a distinct taste.
There are an incredibly many different species of mushrooms. Some have long been used in traditional Chinese medicine. Others have been tested as possible treatments for cardiovascular diseases and to inhibit tumour growth. Still others have shown potential to be anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic, anti-inflammatory or anti-diabetic. Apparently, there are extracts from some mushrooms being touted and used to help with radiation and chemotherapy treatments in Japan, Korea and China.
Nutritionally, mushrooms are a low-calorie food that can be eaten cooked or raw. A three-and-a-half ounce (100g) serving is packed with vitamin B, essential minerals, potassium and lots of other good things, but holds very little carbohydrate and fat, and no sodium. Mushrooms don’t contain vitamin C, but instead have loads of vitamin D which is produced when they’re exposed to ultraviolet light, whereby both natural and artificial work equally well.
Because of their wide ranging chemical potencies there are also toxic varieties, and a small number of mushroom species can and have caused human deaths. I’d not be surprised if worldwide numbers of mycophagists – people who collect mushrooms to eat – are dwindling. It’s not just misidentifying and mistakenly eating a poisonous mushroom. It’s also the chance of contracting lyme disease from tick bites while collecting mushrooms. I classify this as a full-on extreme activity.
And of course there’s the kind of mushroom that many people have heard of, and some have tried – psilocybin mushrooms which possess psychedelic properties. These are commonly called Magic Mushrooms. But consider this: mushrooms are also used as dye for wool and other natural fibres. The chromophores of mushroom dyes are organic and produce strong, vivid colours. And with mushroom dyes, all the colours of the spectrum can be achieved. It sure puts another perspective on the phrase, “What’cha smoking”, doesn’t it?
Well not to worry, here at Sofresh we keep it straight. We supply the main types of mushrooms to our clients:
- the mildly-flavoured, firm-textured White (a.k.a. Button)
- the big-steak-like-tasting Portobello
- the smokey-flavoured Shiitake
- the crisp-textured Enoki, or Enokitake (a.k.a. Golden Needle or Lily)
We also supply the Chanterelle which has a fruity aroma, and the Oyster mushroom which has a peppery flavour that magically mellows when cooked, although these are less commonly ordered by our clients.
I wonder: if I take these six types of mushrooms and boil them together in a pot, until only the essence is left. And I figure out how to wrap it all up in a little red marble. Maybe, just maybe.