Seasons Greetings: Wild Mushrooms in Mexico
Here in sunny Mexico, with all its biodiversity, we are lucky to have fresh produce year round. Ruby red tomatoes twelve months a year mean an end to the cans of Italian plums I used to buy back in New York. Papayas just keep a comin’. Something green is always being sold, just-picked. We are delighted by the seasonal appearance of various fruits and vegetables: artichokes in the spring, mangos in the summer, citrus in winter. More and more, however, the seasons are blurring. There are now grapes, asparagus, mangos, apples available all year round, all imported and all at a steep price –taste-wise. This time we can blame it neither on greedy gringo corporations nor our friends on the side of the earth where they walk upside down. The culprits are our good neighbors south of the border, namely Chile. And NAFTA. All the more reason to pay attention to what’s local now. And that's mushrooms.
From July into October wild mushrooms hit the markets of central Mexico. Here in the capital, the month of August is high ‘shroom time. An extraordinary variety of them are on offer, mostly culled from the wilds of the States of Mexico, Hidalgo, Morelos and Puebla. Some, like the yellow duraznillos, the grayish clavitos or the spongy morillas, correspond closely to such Euro- appreciated and high priced treasures as chanterelles and morels. No wonder one sees French residents gleefully scooping up kilos of them at the Mercado San Juan, thrilled to be paying 80 pesos instead of 80 Euros. The religious and culinary use of hongos has been important in Mexico since long before the arrival of the Spaniards. The Mexica even dedicated the deity Nanacatzin as ‘Lord of the mushrooms’.
Much of this culture was later lost; hallucinogenics are still popular in certain indigenous groups (remember Maria Sabina?) but the gastronomic traditions hang by a thread. Interestingly, most customers I see buying odd hongos silvestresare humble people from the country. While chef/historian Ricardo Muñoz Zurita gives space to 40 separate varieties in his Enciclopédico de Gastronomía Mexicana, the most I have seen for sale at any given vendor is a dozen, which is an amazing sight to behold. Most wild mushrooms sold here are prepared as traditional Mexican guisados (stews), for soups or tacos. I have tried to ‘westernize’ some. I once bought a kilo of bright blue toadstools, trusting the wisdom of the aged woman who was selling them, but wary of their safety, I sautéed them with a little garlic and served over fresh pasta.
One eater said they reminded her of an autumnal New England woodland. Another guest’s setting of choice was a Florida swamp. My ‘cream of hens of the woods’ fared even worse: the toilet down which I dumped it retaliated by backing up making for an unspeakable situation. And the dog on whom I tried to pawn off my inedible ‘sauté de black tree fungus au vin’ still runs when he sees me coming. But other varieties taste sublime, like the golden yemas (which ARE chanterelles), or the subtle, oaky clavitos; they are a cook’s delight – and they can be home-dried for later use: simply slice them up and set out in the sun or in a low oven. Or do like the Provençal and string them up like Christmas popcorn.
They can later be substituted in recipes calling for dried porcini. Unfortunately, while some renowned local chefs like Eduardo García of Máximo Bistro, Jared Reardon of Jaso and Jair Téllez of Merotoro take advantage of these gifts of the Gods and present seasonal dishes, it is rare to find the traditional Mexican versions offered for public consumption. A ‘miracle’ stand in La Marquesa, Restaurante Lupita, makes quesadillas, a roasted foil-wrapped packet, and the occasional stew; a vendor or two in the market ofAmecameca might do a taco; but I have never seen them anywhere else. You’ll just have to do it yourself. Where to buy and eat wild mushrooms:
Tianguis: most tianguises (weekly street markets) are selling wild mushrooms now, for example, Condesa's Tuesday market on c/Pachuca, and Polanco's Saturday market.
Mercado Merced – Along the western (front) side of the main building are several amazing vendors. Take the metro to the ‘Merced’ stop. Exit at the front end of the train and turn left as you leave – you will be in the main building. If you walk straight to the front side, then turn left; walking along the corridor of vendors who line the outside wall you will see them, towards the end. Prices here are much cheaper than most.
Mercado San Juan – Renowned stand no. 261, to the left as you enter the market, is run by Hermelinda Guillén Vargas and offers the best in the country, including farmed porcini and shitake. She has the dried versions year-round. Several other stands have a smaller selection.
Mercado Jamaica - The central flower market south of the centro is easy to get to by metro - just get off at the Jamaica stop. Inside the food section are several mushroom sellers. - see comment below.
Tenancingo, Edo. De México – Outside the large market in the center of town about 2 hours from el D.F., sit ladies from the country selling the most extraordinary varieties of mushrooms – I have seen both blue and bright crimson ones for sale here. Thursday and Sunday aretianguis days so there are even more. The market is also famous for its rebozos.
Restaurante Lupita is located in La Marquesa, on the highway to Toluca, about a half-hour’s drive from the city. After you go through the underpass entering La Marquesa, it is at km. 9. You will see a sign on the right announcing ‘Valle del Potrero’; to the right of the archway are two connected stands – Lupita is the one on the left.
See my other post for recipes! Click here
First published July 25, 2012