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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

MushieHunting at the Market

When the weather conditions have been right, the wild mushroom selection at Moscow markets can be overwhelming, especially for those sheltered Westerners who are not accustomed to anything more exotic than plastic-wrapped portobellos from the supermarket.

Given that it would be a culinary crime to pass up the season's forest offerings, a few tips can put you in good stead to enjoy these local delicacies.

A Word of Warning

When setting out to shop for a crop of wild mushrooms, the first and foremost rule is to only buy them from established city markets or proper stores. Never buy from individual sole traders -- those mushroom dealers lurking outside markets, around railways stations and the like. While they may well be sweet old babushkas just trying to make ends meet, their wares could make you meet your maker. Not only can you not be sure that the mushrooms have been correctly identified as edible, even the safe varieties can be poisonous if collected in a polluted area or too close to a busy road. Mushrooms act like sponges, sucking up minerals, or pollutants as the case may be, and concentrating them within themselves.

Choosing Your 'Shrooms

Vladimir Filonov / MT
Mushroom sellers with lisichki, or chanterelles. It is advisable to buy mushrooms only from official market stalls and shops.
Rules of thumb for selecting first-class fungi include that they should be fresh and firm. Avoid mushrooms that are shriveled or bruised -- most mushrooms darken with age. Stems and gills should both be uniform in color and the mushroom should not be wet or slimy. Check for worms; a few wigglers may just mean added protein, but too many wormholes means the mushroom is infested and no good.

Besides the run-of-the-mill champignons found the world over, Moscow's markets offer a fantastic selection of more exotic flavors. Some of the more popular varieties are listed below.

Beliye Griby, also known as porcini or cepes, are much-loved mushrooms that should need no introduction. Often referred to as the king of mushrooms. The Soviet classic "Book of Tasty and Healthy Food" categorically states: "Our forests are very rich in mushrooms, the best of which is the bely grib."

The Russian name means white mushroom, and this is said to be because it is the only mushroom that remains white when dried. The thick stem and rounded rusty-brown cap give a cartoon-like appearance. Can grow to impressive sizes. Possesses a meaty texture and a robust flavor that is both buttery and nutty. Cooking methods are numerous, from soups to risotto and creamy sauces, or simply fried with onions.

Lisichki, or chanterelles, are small and bright orangey-yellow with a distinctive trumpet shape. Perhaps valued more in the West than in Russia, they are firm and don't easily disintegrate. They have a fairly strong flavor with a fruity aroma resembling apricots. Said to be the most worm-resistant of mushrooms but can easily become waterlogged, so keep an eye out for this when choosing. Can be prepared many ways, but fried with potatoes is one tried and tested recipe.

The maslyonok, also known as the "slippery Jack" or "sticky bun," is not highly respected in the West, with the exception of Australia and New Zealand, where it is considered a good substitute for the cepe, which doesn't grow Down Under. Considered a local delicacy, maslyata are notable for the sticky, slippery coating that covers the top of their reddish-brown caps. When preparing the mushroom, the sticky layer should be peeled off as it can cause indigestion. The stem is also usually discarded, as is the spongy spore layer under the cap. Excellent fried, also well regarded when pickled (and served with vodka).

The opyonok, or honey mushroom, is one of the world's largest-growing and oldest-living organisms -- one member of the honey mushroom family is known to have grown to cover an area of 8.9 square kilometers and is several thousand years old. It is a parasitic fungus that lives on trees and other plants, eventually killing them; also notable for bioluminescence, or "foxfire" glow. Opyata need to be cooked for at least 15 minutes or they may cause some indigestion, and first-timers should try only a little at first as they do not agree with everyone. Although honey mushrooms are liked for their firm meaty texture, some people are turned off by a bitter aftertaste.

Gruzd -- the milk mushroom or milky cap -- is also more highly valued in Russia than in the West, where it is not often eaten. The milk mushroom is so-called because it releases "milk" when cut or broken. Is usually considered best when salted but needs to be soaked for several days first. Besides the white milk mushroom, there is also the chyorny gruzd, or chernushka, known in the West as the ugly milk cap due to its disheveled appearance -- also best when salted.

Podberyozovik and podosinovik, respectively the birch bolete and aspen mushroom or red-capped scaber stalk, are named after the trees they grow beneath. They are similar in their resemblance to classical fairytale mushrooms. When marinated, they approach the quality of the much more expensive bely grib, and are also good when fried. Both can turn soups black so they tend not to be used in this way. They are much loved by worms and therefore need to be thoroughly checked for wigglers before buying. They are also prone to becoming water logged.