It’s been several days since US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen left Beijing, and much has been said about her efforts to repair the US-China relationship.
But politics aside, her Beijing visit resulted in one unexpected success – she dramatically boosted business for a Yunnan restaurant chain while bringing Jian shou qing, an unusual yet highly sought-after mushroom prized for its unique properties, into the national limelight.
Shortly after the treasury secretary landed in Beijing last week, her delegation was spotted dining at Yi Zuo Yi Wang (In and Out). Contrary to the eatery’s English name, there are no burgers here. This restaurant chain specializes in Yunnan food, a famous regional cuisine from part of southwestern China that borders Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar.
When I walked by their table on my way to the washroom, I slowed down to glance at the dishes they ordered,” said Weibo user Pan Pan Mao in the post.
Among the dishes the food blogger claimed to have spotted were grilled fish with herbs, stir-fried pickled Yunnan wild greens with potato slices, and cold rice noodles. Speculating from the timestamp on the news, it was confirmed that she came (to the restaurant) right after landing in China. Our staff said she loved mushrooms very much. She ordered four portions of Jian shou qing (a Yunnan wild mushroom species). It was an incredibly magical day.”
The hashtag “US Treasury Secretary Yellen’s first meal in Beijing is Yunannese” became a trending topic on social media, with related posts racking up 6 million views.
Many netizens expressed curiosity, wondering who picked the restaurant. Others noted they were impressed by Yellen’s chopsticks skills and her delegation’s down-to-earth choice for her first post-flight meal.
But the most heated discussions focused on the mushroom dish’s multiple orders – Jian shou qing.
An aide to the treasury secretary confirmed to CNN that Yellen did eat at the restaurant and immensely enjoyed the experience, including the mushroom dish.
This person added that Yellen enjoys visiting different restaurants, including popular local ones like Yi Zuo Yi Wang, whenever she travels with her team.
She also enjoys meeting different people in the countries she visits over a meal, this person continued, pointing to her upcoming lunch with Vietnamese women economists during her current trip to Vietnam and India.
Jian shou qing, Yunnan’s mysterious mushrooms.
Jian shou qing, which translates literally as “see hand blue,” gets its Chinese name from one of its defining characteristics – the inner surface of the mushroom bruises and turns blue when you apply pressure, including during the slicing process.
It’s an umbrella term for a family of mushrooms, but in Yunnan, Jian shou qing mainly refers to what scientists call “Lanmaoa asiatica.”
“It’s a medium- to large-sized mushroom, reddish color on the outside and yellow underneath, and looks very similar to some of the porcini mushrooms,” says Dr. Peter Mortimer, a Kunming Institute of Botany professor.
“So similar in fact that it is easily confused with local porcini species, often with interesting, or scary, consequences.”
The South African national first arrived in Yunnan 2010 on a climbing holiday and was offered a position at the institute. He has lived in Yunnan and has been researching the region’s mushrooms ever since.
“Lanmaoa mushrooms are considered poisonous as they can be hallucinogenic,” says Mortimer, who spends many days in the Yunnan forest foraging fungi.
“However, scientists have not, as of yet, identified the compounds responsible for causing the hallucinations. It remains a bit of a mystery, and most evidence is anecdotal. I have a friend who mistakenly ate them and hallucinated for three days.”
Last year, the Botanical Society of Yunnan published an updated index of Yunnan’s poisonous mushrooms, with photos identifying the species, to warn the public. Among the fungi included was jian shou qing, leading to discussions about whether the beloved mushrooms should still be allowed to be sold online and served in restaurants. In the end, popularity trumped such concerns, which are still widely available.
Despite its reputation, Jian shou qing is a typical delicacy among Yunnan locals. It is a popular dish at Yunnan restaurants throughout China, where the mushrooms are adequately prepared to avoid adverse effects.
Xinhua, China’s state news agency, even produced a news segment on how to eat Jian shou qing safely on July 10 following Yellen’s visit, interviewing Chinese shoppers at a Yunnan wild mushroom market.
One interviewee claimed she had been negatively affected once: “You thought you were walking straight, but you just fell sideways.”