Let’s talk about how to eat bamboo shoots today!
Almost every household in rural Assam in India has one grove of bamboos. Every household in rural Assam still depends on their bamboo grove for many things.
Traditional Assamese houses are built with bamboos, the fences are made of bamboos, lots of household items are made of bamboos and most of the fishing and agricultural equipment is made of bamboos.
These are the miniature versions of some of the bamboo products:
That’s a bamboo fence and that’s my son and his daddy!
“barire ejupi bah, sio mor sodarar bhai |
jiyai thaku mane karu kathi kami, morile lagate jay’
This famous saying in Assam refers to bamboos as brothers and how it helps an Assamese man in his life and the afterlife when bamboo rafts carry him to the last journey.
Out of 117 bamboo species found in India, 45 are available in Assam only. The Assamese culture as well the culture from other states of North East is unimaginable without bamboos.
During the harvesting season in April-September, tender shoots of bamboos are collected to consume. As bamboos are grown in large quantity, the shoots are available in any weekly market.
Bamboo shoots have an exotic, pungent taste which blends well with everything. The tender shoots are white, and covered in layers which are peeled to take out the core. It is then chopped, put in brine and preserved for later usage.
But this delicacy is not confined only to the kitchens of Assam.
Bamboo Shoots in South Asian Cuisine
Often deemed as the king of forest vegetables, bamboo shoots are extensively used in the South East Asia cuisines like Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Korean, Burmese, Vietnamese and Nepalese.
The earliest proof of bamboo shoots as a food dates back to Tang dynasty (618-907 AD) of China. Literature from this period often mentioned the benefits of eating bamboo shoots.
Important literature from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD) has exclusive chapter briefing various medicinal and nutritional benefits of bamboo shoots.
Ancient Ayurveda also mentioned using the extracts of bamboo for its anti-venomous properties.
In Assamese cuisine, bamboo shoots are called bahgaj. It is believed that the people who migrated to Assam before the last millennium from the heartland of South Asia brought this food habit. It is used in different forms.
How to eat bamboo shoots
The most common way to eat bamboo shoots is kharisa or gajtenga where the peeled and sliced bamboo shoots are preserved in brine.
After it is brined, it can be pickled using mustard oil and ghost chillies or kept brined for the year-long use.
Generally, fish, chicken, and pork can be cooked using the brined bamboo shoots.
The brined shoots are also mixed with roasted fish/boiled potatoes/jackfruit seeds to make mashed fish/potato/jackfruit seeds.
According to your grandma,
"Kharisa is not just a delicacy for us. It is a way of life. It is a source of proteins and minerals for the villagers during the farming season. It is also a medicine to treat many ailments. Bamboos are the blessings of God. You can build a house with it, make furniture, fishing gears, headgears and eat the tender shoots for nutrition."
In Southeast Asia, it is used differently. In Nepal, bamboo shoots are fermented and then made with potatoes and beans. This item is called Tama and often sold in the local markets during June-September.
Thai, Chinese and Japanese cuisines use bamboo shoots in soups, stir-fries, and curries.
Contrary to popular beliefs that bamboo shoots are eaten by only the north-eastern people, it is quite a popular ingredient in parts of Orissa, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and Karnataka too.
Known as kalale in Kannada, kardi in Odiya, karil in Jharkhand, bamboo shoots are eaten in curries and as pickles.
In Orissa, it is often used to make curries and pickles. In the seaward regions of the state, the shoots are sun-dried and called hendua which is often eaten with roasted fish.
In Karnataka, bamboo shoots are cooked in coconut oil and roasted spices which resemble an Indonesian dish gulai rebung and a Filipino dish, labong.
Gulai rebung is prepared by boiling bamboo shoot slices with coconut milk and spices whereas, in labong, dry spices are replaced with chillies.
Although not traditionally a part of north Indian cuisine, bamboo shoots are an acquired taste. The pickle of bamboo shoots with ghost chillies is one of the popular food items from Assam in Delhi and NCR.
The pungent smell of bamboo shoots with ghost chillies is enough to melt your heart during any meal. To make a pickle out of it, the shoots need to be sundried and then can be mixed with mustard oil and preferred ingredients like ghost chilli.
For you, if you love to eat chicken stew with lots of vegetables, you can add bamboo shoots to it.
Recipe for Chicken Stew with Bamboo Shoots
- Country chicken- half kg, cut in medium size
- Two large onions, thinly sliced
- Two tablespoons of coarsely grounded green chilli+ garlic+ ginger paste
- Two medium-sized potatoes, diced
- 2-3 long coriander leaves, finely chopped
Clean the chicken and cut it into medium-sized pieces.
Now heat oil in a pressure cooker and sauté sliced onions and coarsely grounded chilli, ginger and garlic.
Add the chicken pieces, salt, turmeric and cook for 10- 15 minutes in low flame.
Now add water and brined bamboo shoots. Bring it to boil.
Close the lid and let it cook until 4-5 whistles.
Once the steam is gone, open the cooker, bring again to boil and garnish with long coriander.