Back in 2005, after a long summer vacation in Serbia, I came back to Boston with few novel treats. My suitcase was full of aromatic dried mushrooms I had picked from a mushroom forager I met in Belgrade.
Up to that point, and to be honest, I had not seen such vivid and beautiful mushroom colors before. Growing up in Lebanon, our Mediterranean cuisine offered some of the most thought after treats and ingredients known worldwide. Falafel, hummus, zataar, fatouch to name few. This is what every Lebanese grew up on and loved.
In the midst of a war waging in the country in the early 80s, I am positive wild mushrooms were not on the menu of many restaurants. The only champignion, french for mushroom, was the white button kind, and unfortunately it came brined in cans. Come to think of it now, I knew that caviar and Cuban cigars were plentiful for the willing and able. I Just don't think Lebanese at the time have adapted their pallets to wild mushrooms.
Not very often we had the chance to indulge on the white button mushrooms. Occasionally my dad would call to inform us that dinner was to be in a restaurant called Pinky. My preferred item on the menu was a never big enough burger, but it did come with few slices of champignion. I devoured it and always hoped for a second order, which I sometimes got when my dad was in a good mood.
Coming back from my Serbian vacation I was truly bewildered with my newly discovered mushroom bounty. Yes I did not venture into the Serbian woods, and yes I did not pick with my own hands, but it sure felt like it.
My first worry , I thought , was how am I going to get them through American customs and what am I going to say if I am asked. My whole suitcase smelled on Porcini and Chanterelles. However my fears were unfounded. At the time I thought they looked like ancient and medicinal flowers. The colors were intriguing and the aroma through the package was something to behold. It was the beginning of a fun and fulfilling journey. It beats working for a bank anyways.