There’s something sparkling in the kitchens of restaurants at Newport Mall, Resorts World Manila, sparkling like black diamonds in the night. Truffles. An edible fungus. A type of rare and highly prized mushroom that levels up even the simplest food, such as fries, to gourmet status. It is the star ingredient in the ongoing Truffle Festival at Newport Mall, where participating restaurants are serving truffle dishes from 1 to 30 September 2018.
It is the first time in the Philippines that a food promotion focuses on truffles as the featured ingredient in a mall-wide gastronomic event. While it is not a remote possibility that certain malls, hotels and/or restaurants have already thought of having a truffle festival in the past, it has not come to fruition up until now because truffles are not an easy ingredient to work around. Being an imported commodity, they are not as readily available as, say, oyster mushrooms in the local market. Truffles are also very expensive because it takes great effort to find them and bring them to the market, especially since they are in high demand in Europe, the Americas and the Middle East.
Often referred to as “the diamond of the kitchen,” truffles are highly prized in French, Italian, Spanish and Middle Eastern cuisines, in particular. They come in different species, but not all are edible. For food purposes, the most popular species are white truffles and black truffles.
White truffles are rarer and pack in more exquisite flavors than black truffles, so they are more expensive, too. Their use as food dates back to the ancient Roman civilization, whose cuisine held truffles in high esteem. Even then, they were not something to indulge in because of their price and therefore appeared only on the dining table of great nobles.
After all, truffles cannot be easily “cultivated.” They occur naturally, with spore dispersal being done by fungivores (or animals that eat fungi), in Europe, North America, Asia and North Africa. They can be fund concentrated in certain places, such as the French countryside and the Italian countryside. Black truffles are found in abundance in the Périgord region of France, while white truffles have made the Langhe and Montferrat areas of Northern Italy around the Piedmont region, the countrysides of Alba and Asti, and the hilly terrain of Tuscany their favorite breeding ground.
Truffles grow among the roots of certain trees, particularly oak trees, and their fruiting bodies grow underground. This growing habit of truffles makes them difficult to find so that hunters have to be dispatched to find them. Most hunters in Europe use female pigs or truffle dogs to help them hunt for truffles. Female pigs can detect the strong smell of ripe and mature truffles. But since pigs like to constantly eat, using them to help ‘discover’ truffles put these rare diamonds at risk of being eaten, or at the very least bitten, by the pigs that helped find them. So dogs are preferred, and their already sharp noses, which are able to detect the strong smell of mature truffles even when they are underground, are trained further. These hunting dogs are extremely important, since truffles are best harvested when they are mature and ready. The dogs are also trained to dig out these mounds of black culinary diamonds from the ground once they catch the distinct odor of truffles. And the thing about them is that once a truffle is collected from the base of a certain tree, the truffle hunter can keep coming back to the same place in the next few years to collect more.
Hunting season for truffles is from September to May in Europe and, unlike other mushrooms or fungi, truffles come in mounds, big or small, in mostly black variant. They are roundish, but not symmetrically; some are small, while some are as big as a fist, others even bigger.
Most truffles are bought by restaurants and hotels, who can well afford the price. They shave off thin slices of truffles into soups, salads, pasta, main courses, even fries and certain desserts, to give these dishes an exquisite flavor. For use in home cooking, most housewives who personally prepare food for their respective families are usually contented with drizzling truffle oil on what they are cooking. Depending on the brand, truffle oil is generally less expensive than the fresh truffle, and they achieve the strong, exquisite aroma and taste that only truffles can give a dish.
That being said, truffles are such a treat for the palate that Resorts World Manila decided to hold a truffle festival at the Newport Mall this entire month of September, so there is still time to catch it. For the festival, participating restaurants at the mall are offering their own truffle dishes for diners to enjoy. Participating restaurants and their limited-time-only truffle offerings include Italianni’s (Truffle Chicken and Mushroom Pasta and Truffle Mushroom Pizza), Parmigiano Ristorante Pizzeria (Fettuccine al Funghi) , LUMU Filipino Kitchen (Sizzling Black Truffle Bulalo), The Red Crab (Garlic Crab with Truffle Mushroom Rice), Impressions (Chilean Seabass with Black Truffle, Cold Angel Hair Pasta with Black Truffle Ponzu and Caviar and Mixed Mushroom Soup with Black Truffle Duck Liver Ravioli), Mr. Kurosawa (Truffle Ramen) and UCC Café Terrace (Black and White Truffle Fries and Truffle Mushroom Pasta).
It’s an impressive truffle menu that opens diners’ palates to the wonders of truffles and serves as an avenue for them to enjoy the exquisite treat.