A city teeming with hardcore foodies, Vancouver hosts annual festivals celebrating all manner of local delicacies – from sockeye salmon and spot prawns to BC wines and craft brews. So, it should probably come as no surprise that there’s also a festival in honor of one of the most prized ingredients in any gourmand’s kitchen: the mushroom.
All this month, CinCin, the venerable Italian restaurant on Robson Street, will be profiling the fall’s best mushrooms and truffles on a special menu as part of Festa di Funghi. Like fine wines, mushrooms have an extraordinarily complex flavor profile, with notes ranging from earthy and pungent to nearly fruity. And the fungus on offer at this month’s Festa di Funghi goes way beyond the typical bland ‘shrooms you’ll find in the neighborhood supermarket.
There are savory chanterelles and exotic shimijis from East Asia. There are flavorful maitakes, served with duck salami oregano and madeira ($11.50). There are even rare king oyster mushrooms. Native to the Mediterranean, these massive ‘shrooms have a texture similar to abalone when cooked and are also known for their immune-system-boosting powers (A plate of king oyster mushrooms, baked in a wood oven and served with fontina and breadcrumbs is $11).
But gourmet-food lovers will probably be even more excited by the truffles brought in for Festa di Funghi. Often referred to as “diamonds of the kitchen” because of their exquisite taste, truffles grow naturally around the roots of certain trees, including beech, poplar and oak. Because they are often buried beneath a thin layer of soil, specially trained dogs (and sometimes pigs) are used to seek out their signature scent.
Featured at CinCin are two of the most coveted truffle varieties. Black Burgundy truffles ($4 per gram at the Festa di Funghi) are found throughout Europe and traditionally harvested in the autumn. They have an intense, hazel-nut aroma.
Meanwhile, the even more valued white Alba truffles ($15 per gram) are grown exclusively in the Alba region of Italy. They are so sought-after that especially large specimens sometimes trigger bidding wars: In 2009, a 1.6-pound white truffle from Alba sold for a record $150,000.
Both truffles are served as shavings over risotto, pizzas and other classic dishes at CinCin.
Any other fungus fans out there? If you know of other places to sample great edible mushrooms or truffles in Vancouver, please leave a comment below.