Ingredients, dishes and drinks from Japan by Ad Blankestijn

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Bamboo shoot. たけのこ、筍、竹の子。Usually from the variety Mosochiku (Phyllostachys heterocycla var pubescens) and sometimes Madake (Phyllostachys bambusoides).

Bamboo shoots or bamboo sprouts are the edible shoots of many bamboo species and in Japan are used as a vegetable. The season is spring - they are available from early April.

Although tender, bamboo shoots break with enormous energy through the soil - they can grow one foot high in one night -  and after that continue growing very fast. The fresh, young shoots are dug out of the soil when still between 15 and 25 centimeters and are sold whole, with the husk still attached. They must be cooked very quickly to prevent them becoming hard and bitter. So nowadays in supermarkets one finds more often than not parboiled shoots in plastic or even shoots that have been brought to taste by cooking them in a dashi-based sauce. These are sold with some of the liquid still attached and are a good "middle way" between the more difficult to handle fresh takenoko on the one hand and canned stuff on the other.

In taste, bamboo shoots  are sweet and juicy. There is indeed some "bambooish" flavor.

Fresh shoots from which the tips have just appeared from the soil can be eaten as they are, with soy sauce and a dash of wasabi. But you can find these fresh shoots only in pricey restaurants in bamboo growing areas, such as the Western Hills of Kyoto, as they should ideally be eaten within one hour after having been plucked from the soil.

Normally, the shoots sold in supermarkets are larger and one or two days old so that they are already tougher and have to be parboiled first for several hours.

A common way to serve takenoko is as a simmered side dish (nimono). The normal way to do this is in a sauce of dashi with katsuobushi (called Tosani). They can also be cooked with wakame (called wakatakeni).

Another way to use bamboo shoots is to cook them with rice as takenoko-gohan. Other ingredients, such as crab meat, may also be added.

Another popular dish is takenoko no kinome-ae. "Ae" are cooked vegetables which are served cold with a dressing. Here the dressing consists of "kinome," the leaves of the pepper tree (sansho), which produce a green, aromatic sauce. Like bamboo shoots, kinome are a sign of spring.

Finally, bamboo shoots are also used in Japanese style Chinese dishes (Chuka), such as Happosai. They are also made into menma, a lactate-fermented pickle which is used as a topping for ramen.

Preservation: fresh shoots should be used within a day. Bamboo shoots soon grow stiff and astringent. The astringency can be removed by boiling them in their husks for three hours in water to which rice bran and a few dried red chilli peppers (togarashi) have been added.

[Takenoko cooked with dashi and katsuobushi (Tosani)]