Bamboo is a native to Southeast Asia plant though it’s been widely cultivated and naturalized in many other places. Nowadays bamboo grows in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Australia. Wikipedia says the origin of the word ‘bamboo’ is uncertain but it may have come from the Malay language. Though some claims that the original Malayan word was ‘bambu’ and that it came from the sound bamboo makes when it’s heated – bam-boom! We hope it’s the correct version.
What’s really interesting about bamboo is that it’s not a tree, despite certainly looking like one, but rather a grass. Yes, the largest one though. Without going into details, suffice it to say that bamboos, unlike trees, do not increase in diameter or height each year. They reach their peak in one growing season and stay like this for several years afterwards. Soft bamboo, its leaves and shoots are the staple of giant and red pandas, mountain gorillas and chimpanzees, lemurs and elephants. We, people, also cultivate bamboos for different reasons, food is definitely being among them. In many regions bamboo shoots are fermented. Indian mesu is a quick and easy pickle. Toss 250-300 g / 12 oz of blanched or tinned bamboo shoots with 4 crushed garlic cloves, 3 tsp of chilli powder, 1 tsp of brown mustard seeds, 1 tsp of peanut or mustard oil in a bowl, mix to combine everything and transfer to a sterilised jar. Close the lid and let it ferment for at least 6 hours, but preferably overnight in a fridge. With time, the flavour will become stronger but the bamboo shoots – more tender. Use this flavourful condiment with fried or boiled fish or toss into your salads bowls to add crunchiness and a special kick.
While the previous recipe was an assertive way to try bamboo, the next one is very gentle and mild. It’s called fresh bamboo chicken soup. The flavour comes from two main ingredients which support and accentuate each other. You’ll need roughly 4 cups of fresh water – add them to a pot and place it over medium-high heat. Toss in 300-350 gr / 12 oz of random chicken parts with 100 gr / 4 oz of bamboo shoots and 2 tsp of fish sauce (you can use soy sauce instead) and let it all simmer for 30 minutes, until flavours blend and marry. Serve with quick pickles and fresh bread with butter or eat as is to enjoy the freshness and simplicity.