Rural Laos: Mushroom farming

Mushrooms are a popular part of Lao cuisine, particularly in soups, stews and curries, and as a jaew (dipping sauce). You'll find mushrooms on practically every Lao menu. One of my favourite Lao restaurants, Doi Ka Noi, does a delicious spicy mushroom curry soup with fresh bamboo shoots.

There are several different varieties, as you'll see in any fresh market, and they sell, on average, for about 20,000 kip a kilo (A$3).

eatdrinklaos-market-mushrooms

The most popular ones I've seen in Vientiane are those in the middle bowl above, with a flowery edge and a long, spindly stalk. Unlike the button or Portabella mushrooms we have in Australia, they are not eaten raw.

Traditionally, mushrooms were (and still are) collected wild from the forests in rural Laos. But this is quite a laborious process. It's a much better and more profitable idea to just grow them.

Small scale farmers cultivate mushroom farms all around Laos. There are two main methods. The first is to simply throw mushroom spores into an outdoor pile of composting hay as shown below.

Mushrooms in a hay stack

Mushrooms in a hay stack

The second involves buying tubes containing a compost mixture that is already inoculated with mushroom spores. The tubes are then wrapped in plastic to retain moisture. The farmer stores them inside an unventilated and humid hut for 2-3 weeks until the mushrooms start to grow and push their way out of the tube.

The mushrooms are grown in a darkened, windowless hut of mud walls and a thatched roof

The mushrooms are grown in a darkened, windowless hut of mud walls and a thatched roof

Mushroom tubes line the walls, held on a makeshift shelf of bamboo and wood...

Mushroom tubes line the walls, held on a makeshift shelf of bamboo and wood...

... where, after 3 weeks or so, the mushrooms start to push out of their casings

... where, after 3 weeks or so, the mushrooms start to push out of their casings

eatdrinklaos-mushroom-farming-growing

The harvesting can take several weeks, lasting as long as the tubes keep producing mushrooms.

Mushroom farms in Laos are a commercially successful venture that have proven to be far more effective, sustainable and profitable than foraging in the woods. Small-scale farming projects like this help to improve the livelihoods and futures of some of Laos' poorest people in rural areas.

Feeling inspired to cultivate your own mushrooms? Here's a Pennsylvania State University paper on mushroom growing. Good luck!