酸辣云耳 Spicy Sour Cloud Ears
Pinyin: suān là yún ěr
There are over a dozen different kinds of jelly fungus and most of them are edible, a few of them are delicacies, and a few of them are commonly found in dishes throughout Asia. Jelly fungi have earned their name because they have the consistency of jelly or something a bit more rubbery.
Cloud ear fungus and wood ear fungus are two closely related types of jelly fungus that are commonly seen in Asian food. Their names come from the fact that without too much imagination they look very much like clouds or ears. They are found in forests throughout Asia and much of the world growing on a variety of trees and are often found attached to Mango, Kapok and Elder trees. Recently scientists have discovered that they have some blood thinning/anti-coagulating properties, Chinese medicine has been using them for hundreds of years for those same properties.
Snow fungus looks very similar to cloud ear/wood ear fungus with the exception that it is white or translucent. However it is an entirely different species of mushroom that can be found throughout most of the subtropical world growing on a variety of hardwood trees.
Cloud ear/wood ear and snow fungus are generally sold dried in supermarkets throughout China. They can be soaked in water for a few hours at which point they retake their former shape and texture. They are mostly tasteless absorbing the flavors of the food they are cooked in. Traditionally snow fungus is used in sweet dishes and the others are used in savory dishes.
The dish pictured above was served as an appetizer. The mushrooms were tossed in a wasabi, vinegar and oil mixture with julienned strips of carrot, cabbage, cilantro and Chinese radish. It wasn’t spicy as the name implies, rather it was tangy, the wasabi was very mild and I give credit to the chef for knowing how to balance the flavors nicely. The small cloud ear mushrooms were delicate and crispy and the added vegetables provided flavors and textures that really benefited the dish. I especially noticed that the sweetness from the carrots brought the flavors to the next level. I’ve had this same dish at other restaurants and hot peppers were used as a substitute for the wasabi, personally I enjoyed the wasabi as it is so rarely used in Chinese cooking, but both variations are pleasant.
This dish can be found at various restaurants around the city, it is almost always available at higher end restaurants, but can also be found frequently at more reasonably priced establishments.
Sometimes a name is strong enough to make a dish unappealing, and this dish is a prime example of a unique treat on a Chinese menu that might be passed over simply because of it’s name. So take a moment to forget the name and venture just a bit into the unknown with this dish. Enjoy it, Devour it.