Liuzhou Laowai

Random thoughts on life in Liuzhou, Guangxi, China

Friday Food 48 – Caterpillar Fungus and Matsutake

Friday food is a weekly article about one of the more unusual food items to be found in Liuzhou that week. This week, two for the price of one (and what a price!) – caterpillar fungus and matsutake mushrooms.

Caterpillar fungus (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) is known in Chinese as 冬虫夏草. This is a direct translation of the Tibetan name, དབྱར་རྩྭ་དགུན་འབུ་  yartsa gunbu, which in turn means “winter worm, summer grass”.

It is so called because it is originally a type of worm or caterpillar (Thitarodes) which lives underground in the Himalayas. It becomes infested by a type of fungus which invades the caterpillar’s body eventually killing it.

The caterpillars are highly prized in traditional Tibetan and Chinese medicines and attract huge prices. The price has risen from about ¥1,800 per kilo in the 1980s to anything up to ¥100,000 today. It is supposed to counteract fatigue, be effective against cancer and is also considered to be an aphrodisiac (but what isn’t?)

There is an interesting article and podcast on the topic here.

So valuable are the fungus that territorial warfare has broken out in remote areas of Tibet and Nepal and several people killed.

Anyway, I bring you this because a new shop has opened in Liuzhou specialising in these critters (along with other rare and very expensive traditional medicines and foods.)

鼎草虫草行 is a Sichuan company which has just opened a shop on the site of what was the Blue Mountain Café on 曙光东路.


Of somewhat more culinary interest, to me at least, is that they also sell matsutake mushrooms (Tricholoma matsutake). The Chinese is 松茸 as is the Japanese. These grow in the forests of Tibet and Sichuan provinces. The vast majority are shipped to Japan where they are highly prized. Imported mushrooms fetch around $100 per kilo; native Japanese mushrooms fetch up to $2,000!

Compared to the caterpillar fungus, these babies may seem like a bargain, but I can’t see myself being a regular customer in this place – unless my mythical, lost forgotten aunt dies and leaves me a fortune.

Which reminds me of an utterly irrelevant joke I heard recently.

Mary’s grandmother was of a ripe old age and, to be frank, on her way out. Through wheezing breath and faint voice she asked to see Mary one last time.

Mary dutifully gave up her work schedule for the week, pissing her boss off big time,  and headed back to her home town to say goodbye to grandmother. She was sitting by the bed, holding grandmother’s hand waiting for the old woman to die, when granny suddenly opened her eyes and very clearly said “Come closer.”

It was hard to make out what she was saying, but Mary concentrated. “I need to whisper,” said granny, “I don’t want everyone to hear. I have decided to leave everything to you. The farm, the houses, and the $3 million in the bank.”

Mary was stunned! She had never known granny was so rich. She sat there trying to come to terms with her new wealth. “Granny. I don’t know what to say. How can I thank you? I didn’t even know you had a farm and houses and money in the bank. Where is the farm? The houses? The money?”

Grandmother gave a weak cackle, mumbled “Facebook!” and died.

. This entry was posted on Friday, October 12th, 2012 at 7:00 am and is filed under Food and Drink, Friday Food. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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