Shiitake is a mushroom (take) that grows on a shii tree. You must have eaten it in some form. Since the 1980’s, its cultivation has spread in America, and as we become more and more open to new healthy ingredients, it is becoming popular in the Czech Republic as well. At Miyabi, we used shiitake mushroom as early as the 1990s at the time Miyabi opened, as I write about in the Retro 4 blog: “Such a pioneer was the shiitake manufacturer in the 1990s. He was an avid shiitake fan and was glad that I was an avid customer. We were both full of ikigai. We believed that people should start eating shiitake. Every week, the gentleman took a long way from Brno to Prague to bring us few pounds of shiitake. “
I chose shiitake to write about as the theme fits to the time right now, because it’s getting warm and many of us are eager to barbecue. I have a tip: grill shiitake! Grilled they are unbelievably good. All you have to do is place the heads that are not completely open and are meaty over slightly hot coals, and when ready you soak them in some nice sauce, which must not lack soy sauce. You can add finely grated raw white radish and ginger and that’s it. Just as am writing about I cannot resist a strong desire for shiitake. Maybe because I have my good memory of donko shiitake from theirori Japanese fireplace at Mr. Machida’s place. Unforgettable! Some of you old customers may remember the workshop on repairing tatami mats given by this great gentleman from the town of Tsuge in Mie Prefecture. It was almost twenty years ago. He came from Japan to change the Miyabi tatami. This Mr. Machida is a man who loves shiitake and cultivates them by the original method on the rotting trunks of the shii tree next to his residence on the hill where the poet Bashó composed poems. Mr. Machida is a superman, full of strength and ikigai energy, and when he gets excited about something, he indeed realizes it. He knows no obstacles. Imagine, he nowadays burns his own charcoal for grilling. As in ancient times. He also built his house from hand-made logs from his own forest and did not use any nails – everything is connected as it was originally done with wedges in the style of miyadaiku. For future generations he says. And, of course, the house does not lack irori, a fireplace inside the room, around which everyone sits together and grills what is growing in the nature or at the fields. Of course, during one visit to his residency, Mr. Machida entertained me with his shiitake. And I have to say that they were shiitake that I had never eaten before and anywhere else. And never will. They were absolutely great. And we just soaked them in soy sauce, daikon and shouga as I recommended above.
When shiitake then tough ones!
Mr. Machida first led me to the logs so that I was able to rip off the shiitake right fresh. Just a few. Just for the day consumption. He was very proud of his shiitake. In Czech, the shiitake mushroom is called the Edible Toughness (Houževnatec jedlý), and the truth is that it is truly sturdy. Exposed to the dangers of nature its immune system must be very resilient to survive. It is said that the more demanding the environment a fungus has and still survives, the greater its therapeutic effects. I think this mushroom speaks to our souls. Especially now in covid time. It advises us that we should not take lightly that if we protect ourselves too much and create an artificial environment for our lives, it will not be good either. Caution is important, but we must not pile up excessive barriers of protection around us, because doing so we may become even more vulnerable.
In order to survive the danger of ever-emerging diseases, the Edible Toughness can help us above all with itself. Therefore – eat shiitake! They have been used as a medicinal fungus in China for millennia, as well as in Japan. The world adopted the word shiitake, which is from the Japanese language, so in the end it can be said that Japanese made this mushroom famous. In Japan, many scientists have studied not only the specific effects on human health, but also how to grow shiitake commercially. It was important task so that shiitake become part of the regular diet. And here we are – still behind. Even in America, where they started earlier, they are still behind in eating shiitake. Many Americans have never eaten or ever seen a shiitake mushroom. Hope this will change. We can grow them even at home. If we do not have trunks of the tree shii (from family beech), we can use a log of chestnut, oak, maple, poplar, hornbeam or perhaps mulberry. Of course, it is necessary to infect rotting wood with fungi. You can even infect artificially made sawdust logs. And as technology goes “ahead” and as growers need to be sure of the outcome not taking unnecessary risks, they create ever safer environment for the fungus. In sterile growing rooms, shiitake is monitored to be protected from other fungi, fungal diseases and pests, and fungicides are used for this purpose. Cids – pesticides – it does not sound good. No wonder mushrooms grown this way are no longer the same as from Mr. Machida’s logs. They are not hardy, tough fungi that have overcome obstacles. They are spoiled and pampered mushrooms. Shallow taste mushrooms. But even so, I urge you to eat shiitake to which you simply have access and you can at least check a little how responsible the producer was. And please check also dry shiitake. Some Chinese products can be almost harmful to health. Well, it is unfortunately the reality of our world.
What can shiitake do for us?
A well-grown shiitake can do wonders. Above all, it heals our immune system and provides it with the basic equipment for toughness in the fight against harmful viruses and bacteria. It helps treat high cholesterol, hyperacidity, stomach ulcers, gallstones, diabetes and anaemia. It contains beta-glucans, eritadenine, B and D type vitamins, copper, selenium, pantothenic acid, zinc and manganese. As I frequently follow the recommendations around Covid-19 checking what supplements we should take, it is these elements that are often emphasized. Shiitake is also talked about in connection with chemotherapeutic drugs in the treatment of cancer, because shiitake extract mitigates the toxic impact on healthy tissue. What can I say? Yes, let’s eat shiitake! Preferably regularly.
Not only shiitake mushrooms are good
But it’s not just shiitake that heals. In Japan, other mushrooms are also commonly eaten – enoki mushrooms, which grow on eno tree, matsutake, which grow under pine trees, maitake, which got their name from the joyful dancing mau – mai, shimejitake or namekkotake. Take means mushroom. We use many of these mushrooms in Miyabi. Shiitake we prepare in many forms. Namekko is in our misoshiru soup, we have enoki as tempura or we simmer them with butter and a little soy sauce, yummy, and shimeji we use when we make a salad with daikon oroshi and yuzusu. We don’t use matsutake, even though we know about them. They are beyond our reach. They are classy mushrooms, for which one has to pay the hell. They are very valued in Japan and you can get, for example, two elegant pieces in a beautiful package as a valuable gift.
Nevertheless, whether it is this or another fungus, mushrooms are known to have a very aggressive and yet adaptable immune system, which we humans need also to thrive in an environment that is changing and that will stand up to us with an insidiousness that we do not expect. So please, let’s not weak ourselves with over pampering and all sorts of safety, but let’s be brave and assume that we have to take a little risk in the end. To enjoy and get more acquainted with Japanese mushrooms, this weekend is dedicated to the honour of shiitake and the like. We will offer our shiitake teriyaki, roasted shiitake and tempura awase with three kinds of mushrooms. Let’s celebrate mushrooms and take a lesson from them. They are tough. Shiitake especially. Glory of tenacity! Glory to toughness!