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Bamboo Mushrooms

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Vegetables and Vegetarian Foods

Winter Volume: 1999 Issue: 6(4) page(s): 25 and 30

Thanks to a Wildlife Conservation Law in Taiwan in 1989, animals on their way to extinction got a reprieve. Items in the plant kingdom were, at that time, not as lucky, but fortunately for them and for us, in 1996, a Plant Conservation Task Force was established. This has made many items never seen in western Chinese markets commonplace. One such is this readily available fungus. Commonly known as both bamboo pith and bamboo mushroom, the former is an older but more common designation, the latter a more recent nomenclature.

If you never heard of it, seek it out. Don't begin by looking in most mushroom books. A fine book to consult, Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms by Paul Stamets (Ten Speed Press, Berkeley CA, 1993) does not list them by botanical nor by common name in the index or elsewhere. Nor were they found in any of a dozen major mushroom books.

The Encyclopedia of Mushrooms by Colin Dickinson and John Lucas (Crescent Books NY, 1983) does have a paragraph or two on the Genus Dictyophora but nothing about this specific species called multicolor in Taiwan. It does speak of and illustrate one in the clathrus species. For them, it says they inhabit tropical and sub-tropical regions and are "among the most beautiful of all toadstools, although they are best appreciated from photographs because they also smell."

When in doubt about almost everything edible, turn to Stephan Facciola's Cornucopia (Kampong Publications, Vista CA). Searching the most recent edition Cornucopia II (1998), they are referred to as Bamboo mushrooms, Dictyophora indusiata, and Focciola says they are a "rare and exotic tropical mushroom enclosed in a lacy white, netlike veil...(have) a crunchy texture and a unique musty, earthy flavor." He goes on to say that they are "usually reserved for banquets and fine vegetarian cuisine"...and "available dried at Chinese markets in different grades, some being extremely expensive."

We have never seen them fresh, but do share a picture found in our files, unfortunately with no source indicated. Dried they are hardly worth photographing because they come flattened and in bundles. They are almost white and even on a black background looked washed out.

Dried, we have used them sporadically for about ten years. Found them first in Chinese herb stores in both Western and Eastern Canada, and in the past three years, in many Chinese herbal markets or m herbal sections in Chinese supermarkets all over the United States. They may have been there longer, but no one could verify that.

Do recall a fantastic meal in Vancouver more than a half dozen years ago that began our desire to learn about and try using this mushroom. On the menu in long-forgotten restaurant was a dish called Bamboo Pith For Peace. Never saw or read about that dish again until it was featured As Bamboo Pith Heralds Peace at the Chinese Food Festival at the Sheraton Hotel in Flushing Queens in November 1998. Only there no one could not taste the featured foods.

In Yunnan cookery, dried bamboo mushrooom use is common. It probably grows abundantly there and on nearby Hainan Island. They grow inside or outside rotting bamboo and sometimes on reasonably good bamboo everywhere in the southwest of China. Searching for them on the web at the end of June (www.nj-eat.com/northsea/menu/htm), they were found on a menu of a restaurant called North Sea Village Restaurant. They were in a dish called Wild Bamboo Pith Stuffed with Asparagus and Chinese Seaweed and in another called House Special Mixed Vegetables with Wild Bamboo Pith. Chinese restaurants are known to serve them with shrimp, pork, beef, etc.

We do not recall seeing this versatile ingredient in any cookbook published in a western country, and rarely in any published in Taiwan, Hong Kong, or China; nor have we ever found their nutrient content. They do not seem to be used by chefs of other cuisines, though we would recommend them to them for exactly that purpose.

They are easy to spot and easy to use. Dried they are about two to three inches long and tied together before packaging. Just rinse the ones to be used in warm water for twenty minutes to dislodge any sand. Must confess, we only found sand in one batch two years ago, but still we recommend rinsing. Then, if using as a vegetable just simmer them in a rich stock for a half an hour alone or with other foods. In soups, eliminate the soaking process and cut them with a scissor into desired sizes then cook with other soup ingredients for that same half hour or more.

After soaking, they can be stuffed, and then cooked. If you haven't tried any, seek them out prepared in Chinese restaurants or purchase a package, they are usually sold in half pound or one pound packages, and try your hand with them; their texture is wonderful and those little pockets hold sauce and deliver flavor in abundance. You'll find them wrapped in plastic or cellophane. They stay for months in your kitchen cabinet. Recommend putting the package in a heavy plastic bag with a dozen bay leaves. All mushrooms have spores, some have larvae, too, so do flours and sometimes beans. Store all dried foods with bay leaves be they shiitake mushrooms, cloud ears, dried beans, peas, or flour. This assures no hatching on your turf.

Bamboo Pith with Bean Curd
12 whole bamboo piths
6 bamboo piths that can be broken, cut, or otherwise not whole
3 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked and minced fine
2 scallions or several large chives or garlic shoots, minced fine
6 Tablespoons frozen peas, defrosted and slightly mashed
2 Tablespoons oyster sauce
1 Tablespoon cornstarch mixed with one tablespoon cold water
salt and white pepper, to taste
1 cup chicken stock
1 Tablespoon light soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon hoisin sauce
2 Tablespoons cornstarch mixed with two tablespoons cold water
1 cup any steamed or cooked greens (i.e.: spinach, tops of bok choy, etc.)
1. Soak both sets of bamboo pith for twenty minutes, then drain and mince the broken ones.
2. Make the stuffing by mixing the shiitake mushrooms, scallions and or other greens, peas, and oyster sauce, and finally the cornstarch mixture.
3. Fill the whole bamboo pith pieces with the stuffing. A pastry bag without a tube at the end works very well, and set aside for ten to fifteen minutes.
4. Heat water to boiling in a steamer and put the filled piths decoratively around the outside of a heat-proof plate that is at least one inch deep. Steam them for five minutes, then remove the plate and its contents.
5. Bring the stock, light soy sauce, sesame oil, and hoisin sauce to the boil. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and continue stirring until the sauce clears.
6. Put the greens in the center of the bamboo piths amd por the boiling sauce over them and the pieces of stuffed pith. Serve immediately.

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