Bamboo shoots are often seen as a seasonal treat so it’s worth having recipes on hand to know what you’re going to make should you come into fresh shoots.
Boiled Bamboo Shoots Recipe
“Kye no kidaore Osaka no kuidaore.” If we’re to believe this old adage, the people of Kyoto go bankrupt because of their love of fine clothes, while Osakans spend all their money on food. The saying also implies in passing that Kyoto’s cuisine is less than spectacular – an assessment that clashes with all my dining experiences in the city.
Kyoto, after all, was the capital of Japan for 1,000 years. Along the way it developed a rich array of culinary offerings, including yusoku ryori (“imperial food”) and a singular vegetarian cuisine called shojin ryori that was a mainstay at the city’s Buddhist temples. Kyoto was also the center of the tea ceremony, so we can credit the genesis of dishes for tea ceremonies – known as kaiseki ryori – to the city as well.
By the middle of the Edo period (1603-1867) the lower classes in Kyoto were better off financially and could afford to vary their diets as the upper classes did. The special dishes served to high society became the inspiration for obanzai, the Kanzai style of home cooking.
We can trace the term obanzai to a book entitled Nenju banzairoku, published in 1849. Ban here means “poor” or “unsophisticated”; for example, a low-quality green tea is called bancha. Banzai came to mean poor-quality side dishes in Kyoto. Perhaps to compensate for this, the ordinary people of Kyoto commonly celebrated many yearly occasions and events with better-quality dishes. For example, on the first day of the month, they would eat herring with kelp and red beans mixed into rice. Every day that had the number eight in it, for instance, would be feted with something special like seaweed with fried bean curd. On the fifteenth of each month, beans and rice with potato and dried cod would be eaten, and so on.
Takenoko no kakani
In the spring, freshly dug-up bamboo shoots are sold everywhere in Kyoto, and remain a special seasonal treat. For the following obanzai dish, precooked or canned bamboo is an acceptable replacement if fresh bamboo is unavailable.
Takenoko no kakani (Boiled Bamboo Shoots with Dried Bonito Flakes)
- A 4-inch 10cm square of konbu (kelp), wiped with a damp cloth and lightly slashed to release its flavor
- 18 ounces 500g takenoko (bamboo shoots), boiled* and cut in half lengthwise, then into thick, half-moon slices
- 2 ¼ cups water
- 1/3 ounce 10g katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes)
- 2 tablespoons mirin sweet rice wine
- 1 to 2 tablespoons white sugar or to taste
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
Place the kelp, prepared bamboo shoots, water, and dried bonito flakes in a deep saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Add the mirin and sugar, and continue to coil over medium-high heat a further five minutes. Next, add the soy sauce and continue to boil until the liquid has reduced to half – approximately eight minutes.
To serve, place the bamboo shoots and remaining liquid in a decorative serving bowl. Sprinkle with either additional dried bonito flakes, a few sprigs of kinome, or both. Serve hot or at room temperature.
*If using canned or precooked peeled bamboo shoots, drain and rinse them thoroughly in cold water before preparation. If the shoots are fresh, cut off the hard bottom part and boil them in their husks – water left over from washing rice or rice bran is best for this – with a dried red pepper for about one and a half hours to remove bitterness. Let cool, then peel off the husks. Wash well in cold water and continue with preparation.
Garnish: Additional dried bonito flakes to taste, sprigs of kinome (Japanese prickly ash) or both
Leave a note in the comments section (see below) if you make this dish!