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Bamboo Shoots

by Irving Beilin Chang

Vegetables and Vegetarian Foods

Fall Volume: 2003 Issue: 10(4) page(s): 9, 10, and 12

Bamboo is a very economical crop. Many Chinese farmers grow it; they now it is used to make lots of useful products, and that is used frequently in China's culinary. One advantage of growing these tall thin stalks is that they do not break easily. They have high tensile strength and can bend under heavy loads; and they bounce back when the load is removed.

The Chinese admire bamboo. Sometimes, when luck is down, with much work one can eventually overcome hardship. Surviving and prospering is akin to the bamboo plant. This is why it is a popular topic for Chinese poets. Since it is a very pretty plant, it is also a favorite subject of many Chinese artists. Because this plant tastes good and has an interesting flavor and fine texture, it has many uses by those whose art is in the kitchen.

Bamboo shoots and their tall reeds require little care. They grow on marginal land such as hillsides and in places where few other crops grow. Groves of bamboo make effective windbreaks, especially for protection against winter's north and west winds. This is a native of Southern and Western China, and it is a highly profitable product.

The Chinese claim that bamboo has more than one thousand uses. They sometimes call it the the 'universal provider.' It is used to make furniture, chopsticks, sleeping mats, scaffolding, boat masts, fencing material, baskets, cooking utensils, pens for writing, farmer's hats, combs, fishing poles, garden rakes, musical instruments, blinds, fans, laminated dishes, ropes, rafts, floats, traps, snares, roofing tiles, and more. And for cooking, its leaves can be used to wrap food for steaming, and last but not least, its shoots are a gourmet delight and a favorite food.

Bamboo is fast growing and can replenish itself in a very short time. Sometimes it can grow four feet in a day. That is true of many types of bamboo including those that are small and grow no more than ten to fifteen feet tall, their main stems no bigger than a thumb. Others grow to twenty or more than thirty feet tall, the cross sections of their main stems can be three to four inches thick.

When a clump of bamboo grows, the roots form a strong web that spread and cover a large area. In the spring, after March and April rains, buds or shoots from the base of older canes or from an underground stem or rhizome push up above the ground. These shoots can be broken off and collected; they are called hun shun or 'spring shoots.' There are bamboo shoots that appear in the winter. They are slightly smaller and have finer textured shoots. They possess more flavor than do the spring ones and they are highly prized. These are called winter shoots or ung shun. They are not as plentiful as the spring shoots, but they are more in demand, and as such command a higher price. The most common and readily available ones are the sprng shoots. When in season, harvesters can hardly keep up with their preservation schedule.

There are more than a hundred types of bamboo but only ten produce shoots that are considered edible. To keep any bamboo plant from spreading, dig a shallow trench around them. This appears to stop their natural spread.

The shoots from larger bamboo types can be as long as ten inches and four to five inches thick. Those from the Zhejiang Province are deemed to have the best quality. Those from in and around Ningbo are from a smaller bamboo plant and their shoots are known as ien shun or 'whip shoots,' also as ian shun or 'arrow shoots.' These are about the size of asparagus. The Ningpo people like to preserve theirs in oil. The largest bamboo groves are mainly south of the Yangzi River in the provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Sichuan, Jiangxi, Guangdong, Guangxi, Yunnan, Hunan, and Hupeh.

In order to prepare bamboo shoots for eating, the outer husks are removed exposing the tender inner core. This core is edible. However, fresh bamboo shoots often contain a toxin, hydrocyanic acid, which can be easily removed by par-boiling them. When purchased, they usually are boiled. When prepared in a dish, bamboo gives a delicious savory taste and a refreshing crunchiness. Vegetarians highly treasure bamboo shoots because of their flavor and their texture. Lots of non-vegetarians do, as well.

Many bamboo shoots are produced in the hinterlands of China, their harvesting time a short two to three week period. If they are not picked and processed during that period, they turn into woody bamboo and are no longer edible. Harvesters often do not have appropriate transportation facilities to ship them to market immediately after they cut them. Since they can not control nor slow down the arrival of the spring shoots, they must preserve them through salting, drying, canning, pickling, freezing, etc.

In America, the products used are mostly those canned in water. These canned products retain most of the shoot's crunchiness, but they are bland. During the canning process they lose most of their original savory fresh flavor. There are other ways they can be preserved, but these are not as commonly available in the stores and most Americans would not know how to use them.

Because of the many different types of bamboo in China, variation in shoots and by-products are many. For instance, bien jian or 'flat sharp shoots,' as they are known, are salted and pressed flat. Mao shun or 'hairy shoots' come from a plant known as the 'hairy bamboo.' It is mainly grown on mountain slopes. These are the largest of all bamboo species, their joints and segments huge and probably the strongest of any of the bamboo varieties. They are used a lot for scaffolding, their shoots hairy and thus their name. These shoots are not as tasty nor is their texture as fine as shoots of smaller types.

Bamboo shoots grown in the province of Guangdong are known as ling nan; they have a slightly bitter taste. This is because during their growing period, they are not exposed to freezing temperatures.

Sichuan Province is the land of the panda and bamboo. This vegetable grows in the mountains there, and it is huge and different from any grown in the other province. The people there have found a sheath-like membrane as soft as velvet that grows inside the bamboo segments. Each membrane is very light and when dried they are packaged in a bunch of thirty to forty for market. Such a package weighs less than three ounces. This membrane is called so sun. It can be found it in larger Chinese groceries in America. Packages of this membrane are quite expensive. They are easy to use and very popular in vegetarian casseroles and soups.

Bamboo Shoots are a species of the genus Phyllostachys or Bamboosa. Analysis of many of them show they do not differ much one from another. Their average nutrient analysis shows them to contain ninety-one percent water. They provide only twenty-seven calories per one hundred grams (about three and a half ounces). Like other shoots, those from the bamboo contain vitamin B. They are used in Chinese medicine.

Here are a few recipes to demonstrate how bamboo shoots are used in Chinese cooking.
Hot and Sour Soup
1 cup shredded preserved Sichuan vegetable
2 dried Chinese black mushrooms, soaked for twenty minutes in warm water
2 Tablespooons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 pieces of soft doufu, sliced thin
2 thirteen ounce cans of chicken broth
1 cup shredded roast pork or fresh pork
1 cup shredded bamboo shoots
1. Wash the red pepper powder off from the preserved vegetable, and shred it.
2. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and shred them.
3. Mix vinegar, soy sauce and cornstarch in a small bowl.
4. Simmer chicken broth and the doufu for five minutes.
5. Add the Sichuan vegetable, pork, bamboo shoots, and the mushrooms and boil these one minute, then add the vinegar mixture. Stir well and serve.
Note: The best tasting preserved vegetable is kolhrabi; it comes in chunk form in cans and is sometimes misnamed 'preserved turnip.'
Yangzhou Fried Rice II
4 Chinese dried black mushrooms
1 cup frozen peas
3 Tablespoons peanut oil
1 cup bamboo shoots, diced
1 scallion, chopped
2 eggs, well-beaten
1 Chinese sausage, diced
4 cups cold cooked rice
1 cup shrimp, diced
1 and 1/2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup roast pork or cooked ham, diced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
1. Rinse mushrooms, then cover them with warm water and soak for half an hour or until soft; then dice them.
2. Heat two tablespoons of oil in a wok. Then add the scallion and stir-fry a few seconds, then add the sausage and shrimp and stir-fry for thirty seconds more before adding the meat, peas, shoots, and mushrooms. Stir-fry this mixture for two or three minutes, then remove from the pan and set it aside.
3. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the wok, then add the eggs and scramble them. Stir in the rice and heat thoroughly. Add the meat and vegetable mixture, then the seasonings, and mix well. Serve.
Crab with Celery Cabbage
3 Tablespoons peanut oil
1 clove garlic, minced
3 slices fresh ginger, minced
2 scallions, minced
8 ounces fresh or canned crabmeat
1 teaspoon sherry
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with two tabesppons cold water
1 cup chicken broth
1 pound celery cabbage, cut into one-inch pieces
1 cup thinly sliced bamboo shoots
1. Heat two tablespoons oil in a wok or pan and add scallion, ginger, and garlic and stir-fry for one minute.
2. Add crab meat and fry for two minutes. Then add sherry, salt, sugar, and cornstarch mixture and simmer for two minutes. Remove to a warmed bowl.
3. Heat chicken broth and add cabbage and bamboo shoots and bring to the boil, then simmer for five minutes. Place in a serving bowl and top with the crabmeat mixture.
Vegetarian Steak with Mushrooms and Bamboo Shoots
3 Tablespoons peanut oil
2 scallions, minced
2 slices fresh ginger, minced
1 ten-ounce can vegetarian steak, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup diced bamboo shoots
1 cup cloud ear mushrooms, soaked in warm water for thirty minutes, then drained
30 Chinese dried black mushrooms, soaked in warm water for half an hour, the water squeezed out, stemd discarded, the mushrooms reserved
1 cup dried lily flowers, soaked in cold water for an hour, the water discarded, the hard tips cut away and discarded, the rest cut in half
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with one cup of water
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1. Heat oil, then stir-fry scallions and ginger for a few seconds, then add vegetarian steak, bamboo shoots, all the mushrooms, and the lily flowers and stir-fry for two minutes.
2. Add soy sauce, sugar, salt and three tablespoons of the black mushroom water. Cover and simmer for five minutes, remove the cover and stir in cornstarch water and stir until the liquid thickens. Remove from heat and add sesame oil and mix thoroughly.

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