We have all heard of bamboo shoots. Some of us have also eaten them, especially those of us who are fond of far eastern cuisine. But what are these shoots? Where so they grow? How are they cooked? And most importantly how healthy are they? Kanak Hagjar responds to all this andmore as she introduces us to this delectable component, which is an integral part of many cuisines in the east.
BAMBOO, the fastest-growing grass in the world, also produces the most delectable shoots.
Yes, I mean the edible shoots that come in a wide range of sizes and variations in taste. Some are slightly bitter and some are on the sweeter side. They may be wrapped in green, brown, cream or purple depending on the species but as you peel away the outer layers with the help of a knife, they reveal the white portion that goes into the making of all the dishes that bamboo-growing areas cherish.
The demand for natural foods across the world has greatly increased which is why we read about foraging in environments that are so different from ours.
Bamboo still remains one of the main foraged vegetables in our region. In early March the forests are burned for jhum cultivation. Through the ashy and charred earth, among the many first signs of life are bamboo shoots that push through the ground. This is also the time for the first sporadic rains of the year. These bamboo shoots are smaller, shorter and thinner in diameter than their cousins that would soon sprout with the descent of summer. Known as miya baire in my mother tongue Dimasa, it is added to our much-loved chicken curry that is thickened with rice flour and garnished with fresh ginger leaves. The availability of this variety of shoots is only for a short while which is why family elders refer to them with such fondness. But soon the forests and markets will see an abundance of this crop that will last till the end of October.
But what are the nutritional benefits of these shoots?
The main nutrients in bamboo are protein, amino acid, fat, sugar and inorganic salt. For each 100 grams of fresh bamboo shoots, the average protein content is 2.65g. The bamboo protein produces 8 essential and 2 semi-essential amino acids.
In our Dimasa cuisine, cooking bamboo shoots has two main options. One is with oil (thao) and the other is with fermented fish (naphlam). The larger kinds are usually cooked with the addition of the latter. The dish is thickened with rice flour and the garnish that goes in this is a variety of basil known as bahanda.
Bamboo shoots are also made into pungent chutneys with the addition of other vegetables like eggplants and ridge/sponge gourds. Miya wathi or the smaller variety of muli bamboo is cooked with the addition of oil. They taste wonderful fried on their own or with pork, chicken or venison. They can also be added to pork or chicken curry. Other ways of using the shoots are:
a) in fermented form to be added in small amounts to curries and fried dishes and
b) made into pickle generally with mustard oil and a few spices.
Now I’m going to prepare a recipe with bamboo shoots just for you! Watch out for it!
Written byKanak Hagjar
She lives in Guwahati and has been blogging for a while, on nature/gardening and then turning to food in 2013. She grew up in the pretty town of Haflong, the head quarters of Dima Hasao district in Assam. She loves to try out all kinds of dishes, often cooks traditional Dimasa food and writes about it on her blog, Blending Flavours. Her passions include gardening and nature photography