Mushroom magic that the monsoons bring to GoaImage: Chryselle D'Silva Dias
Features Monday, August 24, 2015 - 19:11


By Revati Upadhya

Many Goans heaved a sigh of relief two weeks ago when the state finally saw the incessant rain that is typical to the western coast of India. It was time to buy their year’s share of ollami – a species of edible, wild mushrooms available for a very small window of time over July and August. A widely eaten delicacy, these mushrooms are picked by tribal folk who inhabit the forests in and around Goa – one of the oldest traditions in foraging and ethnomycology to continue to live today.

The slim time period of its availability, the difficulty in foraging them and their incredibly buttery flavour and soft texture has also made it an expensive delicacy. Muddy, moist and anything but appetizing at first sight, they’re sold at exorbitant prices from Rs 350-500 for a small bunch of about 50 mushrooms. The high price doesn’t seem to deter people from buying them and making the most of the short season.

In Panaji, vendors selling these mushrooms begin to crop up along street-sides, away from the main market area and their day’s produce is usually wiped out within a few hours.

“You won’t find us near the market. Come here early in the morning for the best mushrooms,” Ramabai Nagvekar cheekily says. She has been selling ollami for the last week, with other sellers who sit just outside the High Court in Panaji. “Just a few days more and the season will be over,” she hastens to add, holding up the bunch of very expensive muddy, long, slim mushrooms, like bait.

Nirupa Angle, 47-year old housewife is voraciously interested in cooking Goan food as taught to her by her mother. She loves to cook withollami at least a handful of times before the season ends. “I wonder how far the ban is helping or working, because the mushrooms are fewer with every season and prices are shooting up,” she laments.

“Most people of the new generation don’t bother cooking it these days. It takes too much effort, you see!” she says, because handlingollami is incredibly tedious.

“You need to gently but thoroughly wash them at least 4-5 times with water. And I usually use a soft muslin cloth to clean them after that. This is how my mother does it. If you wish to store them for later use, they need to be completely dried free of moisture,” she explains.

“The traditional process of cooking them is dying out too. Unless you learn it from someone of the previous generation, you wouldn’t know what to do with it,” she says.

Every community hs particular preparations that are relished.

“Christians enjoy it in a chilli-fry preparation, but it is also cooked with coconut milk along with a masala of green chillies, similar to acaldeen. But this is not as popular as the xacuti, which is made by both Hindus and Christians,” says Fatima Da Silva Gracias, historian and author of Cozinha de Goa: History and Tradition of Goan Food.

Ollami gets is scientific name Termitomyces because of its mutually inter-dependent relationship with termites. They form the feed for termites, responsible for healthy decomposition of dry leaves and natural forest waste, which would otherwise collect and become hotbeds for bacteria.

A short season of availability has caused demand to shoot up. Unchecked picking has put the ecological balance in serious danger. So, in 1993, the Government of Goa became the first western state to ban the picking of these mushrooms within wildlife sanctuaries.

But with nobody monitoring these activities, ollami continue to be picked, sold and eaten. “You will notice that when the sellers see officials or cops around, they make a quick dash,” says Fatima.

Experts believe that if picking of these mushrooms is not checked, they may disappear altogether in a few decades, taking along with them the natural checks and balances in the environment