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Girljin in Japan By Rachel Tranter Davies

Magical Mushrooms
This month is my favourite time of the year for food in Japan, particularly when Kyoto's answer to truffles; matsutake are the order of the day.

One of the most expensive mushrooms in the world, matsutake can fetch eye-wateringly high prices of 100,000 yen per kilo, but what's all the fuss about? More than just a mushroom, matsutake represent longevity in Japan. Synonymous with the autumn season, these tasty little fungi have become a national symbol for the changing of the seasons, an incredibly important and much celebrated concept in Japan. For many people, matsutake have become one of the defining characteristics of what it means to be Japanese, much like sakura blossoms in the spring.

It's not only the symbolism that garners the attention and sky-high prices; matsutake are renowned for their intense aroma and pine-like flavour. Having been part of the Japanese diet for over a thousand years (after tasting them you can see why) no one has yet been able to work out how to farm these delicacies and they are still picked by hand from under fallen leaves at the foot of pine trees, their scarcity adding to their expense. Matsutake, Japanese for ''pine mushroom'', are also sought after for their unique aroma, which is both spicy and fruity, with a hint of sweet cinnamon and is thought to stimulate the appetite.

Yaki matsutake (grilled matsutake)

This month is the prime time for finding these little beauties in restaurants and shops. Here are a few things to look out for to make sure that you get the most mouth-watering matsutake. The most highly prized mushrooms are those that have an even plumpness to the stem and measure about 6 inches in length. More important than size, however, is to make sure that the cap has not yet opened as this is when their distinctive scent is at its strongest.

Dobinmushi served with sudachi citrus for additional flavour

Another factor that determines price is where the mushroom comes from. Matsutake collected from the bottom of red pines in the Tamba region just outside Kyoto are said to be the best and are the most expensive. As the domestic harvest is now less than 1,000 tons per year, the majority of Japan's matsutake are imported from Korea, China, and the US, but these are considered inferior to domestic matsutake and so don't command such a high price, although can still fetch over 10,000 yen per kilo!

Popular matsutake dishes include ''dobin mushi'' (matsutake steamed in a clay teapot) and ''matsutake gohan'' (rice mixed with matsutake). Typically, the mushrooms are cooked soon after harvest when they are incredibly fresh, with only a light seasoning so as not to mask their smell. Matsutake are truly tasty, an authentic Japanese delicacy that's not to be missed and is, in my opinion, worth a little spending splurge.

Rachel is a food, drink and travel writer. Originally from England, she recently relocated to Japan and is now finding her feet in Kyoto. You can find her blogging tweeting and instagramming her experiences at Girljin in Japan.