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Is the cow face edible?

September 5, 2011

Today we made a stop at Tony and Siripan Kidd’s new gallery & café, called ‘9 Moo 9’. It is situated parallel to the canal road not far from Dokmai Garden, Chiang Mai. It is open Thursdays to Sundays. We had a refreshing coffee and enjoyed home made pastries such as the very delicious passion fruit roll. A small gallery with some of Siripan’s interesting quilt works are on display, mainly to encourage young Thai designers to dare creating, not just copy.

Now, Siripan, being a true Slow Food devotee although not yet a member of the organization, is a keen home cook. She would use local and seasonal ingredients such as wild mushrooms. She showed me some mushrooms and asked me what they are. The locals call it ‘hed hom’, which translates into ‘fragrant mushroom’. That name is already used for shii-take (Lentinula edodes) and I am sure that locally this common name can be applied to almost any edible mushroom. Based on the presence of lightly coloured gills and a cheese-like brittle flesh without latex (most other mushrooms are fibrous when broken), I could immediately see it is a Russula mushroom. This genus of mushrooms is rich in species, hundreds of species have been described, and I often fear that one species has been described several times under different names. Back at Dokmai Garden I consulted the literature. Nothing resembled Siripan’s mushroom in the Thai, Chinese, Swedish or American mushroom books. However, in the eminent mushroom book ‘Fungi of Japan’ by Imazeki, Otani and Hongo (1989) I found a picture of a very similar mushroom: Russula metachroa, described by Hongo in 1955. It turns out this edible mushroom is also found in Nepal, which has mountains connected to ours here in Chiang Mai. This mushroom genus is ectomycorrhizal, meaning it lives in mutualistic symbiosis with forest trees, in this area mainly members of the oak family (Fagaceae) and Dipterocarpaceae (no English name).

Ketsanee and her mother Nived said that in their Esan language they call this edible mushroom ‘hed na woa’, which translates into ‘the cow face mushroom’. Indeed the colour of the mushroom resembles a white zebu cow. The fragrance is appealing and mushroomy, the taste is mild, the stipe is solid and the cap margin is folded for a long time making it quite sturdy. Since ‘hed hom’ is too general I propose the English name ‘cow face mushroom’.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

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