Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What Is It And How Do I Cook It: Fresh Bamboo Shoots.

"Bamboo shoots, along with the cherry blossom, are the indicators of the passing of winter, and the emergence of spring." - Food Of Japan.

Walking to the grocery store this week, Little TF in tow, we passed by our local "veggie man."  His stall is one block down from our apartment, and he is there every day except Sunday.  He is old and wears a Naval Academy ball cap, waves hello to Mr. TF biking to work and gives Little TF hot sweet potatoes when I buy produce.  I use my stops at his stall to practice my minimal Japanese, which is a very gratifying experience; any effort, no matter how butchered, is met with exclamations of encouragement and amazement.  LTF and I were passing by his stall when I screeched to a halt.

"Kore wa nan desu ka?!" -Me, pointing at the bizarre, new produce on offer. What is it?
"Kore wa takenoko desu!" -Veggie Man. It's takenoko!
I whip out my iPhone, click on my handy-dandy Japanese dictionary app, and type in "takenoko." Takenoko = Bamboo shoot.
"Eeeeeeeeeh?!!!" Me, using a Japanese expression of amazement and surprise.
"Oishii!  Oishii!" Veggie Man, persuading me that it's delicious.

So, I bought one.

We all know what bamboo looks like.

Bamboo forest at Kunozan Toshogu Shrine, Shizuoka.

We all know what canned bamboo shoot looks like.
Canned bamboo shoot.

 But...what does bamboo shoot in its natural state actually look like?

Small bamboo shoots, divested of most of their husks, swim
in the Veggie Man's cool water bath.

Large bamboo shoots, still in their husks, rest on the ground.

Now that I knew what it was, how was I going to cook it?  Not knowing nearly enough Japanese to ask the Veggie Man, I headed home to my new favorite cookbook, Food Of Japan.  It is a book that deserves its own blog post.  For now, I bring you its recipe for Bamboo Dumplings! (The ingredient list is located at the bottom of the post.)

First, without removing the husks, boil the shoot for one and a half hours. This removes bitterness.  Don't forget to add water to the pot as needed!

Drain, then cool.  Remove the layers of husk.  Discard the husk.  Cut the shoot down the middle and remove the strings.

The husk pieces are on the left.  The tender (and WOW were they tender) inner pieces of bamboo are on the right.  My sliced shoot did not reveal any strings to remove; perhaps it was too small?

Cut off the bottom stump. Grate the bamboo core on a fine grater to achieve a pulp.  In a large bowl, combine the pulp with flour and salt until it is stiff.

Take a tablespoonful of the mixture and form small balls.

Heat the oil to about 320F (I just made it really hot) and deep fry the balls until golden.  If your kitchen is more Japanese than mine, use long cooking chopsticks to remove them.  Otherwise, tongs will do the trick.

Drain on paper towels.  While they cool, bring the simmering ingredients to a boil.

Add the dumplings and simmer for five minutes (here was where I said, "really!?" to the cookbook.  I simmered for about 60 seconds, and that was plenty of time).  You want dumplings that are slightly softened, but not falling apart.
Food Of Japan says this is a specialty of Sanko-in Temple.  See if you
can do a better job than the monks!

Serve hot in a medium-sized bowl.


There was a lot of work involved, but these bamboo dumplings were delicious. Mr. TF couldn't stop eating them, and as soon as I told Little TF that she might turn into a panda if she tried one, that suspicious little eater immediately gobbled down three.  Don't wait to try this dish...bamboo shoots can only be harvested and purchased in spring and early summer!


-The Tofu Fox

Ingredients list:
1 medium bamboo shoot, 4 TBS plain flour, oil for deep frying.
For Simmering:
17 fl oz. dashi, 1 TBS sake, 1tsp soy 
sauce, pinch salt.


  1. Someone gave me a sackful of these once and when I tried to find a recipe everything said if you don't cook them long enough you will die. Chris was deployed and I didn't want my cats to eat my cold body, so I chickened out and never tried them. Regret!