Not just a treat for the pandas

Fresh, tender and crunchy, bamboo shoots are pandas' favorite food. They are also among the most celebrated spring delicacies for people across China.

Fresh, tender and crunchy, bamboo shoots are pandas’ favorite food. They are also among the most celebrated spring delicacies for people across China.

Bamboo shoots harvested around the Qingming Festival (which is tomorrow this year) are of high quality and reasonably priced.

A root vegetable with few calories but lots of fiber, bamboo shoots are widely harvested and eaten in Zhejiang and Sichuan provinces where the climate is ideal for bamboo cultivation.

There are many ways to enjoy spring bamboo shoots, from sumptuous soups to fun snacks. This week we’ll take a look at some crowd-pleasing bamboo shoot dishes.

Not just a treat for the pandas
Li Anlan / SHINE

Bamboo shoot

A versatile vegetable

There are two types of bamboo shoots in China that grow in spring and winter respectively. It’s difficult work to dig up the shoots from the soil, and it must be done by hand.

Most vegetable vendors in the local markets are selling fresh spring bamboo shoots. The sellers can help with removing the muddy peel so that the shoots are ready to use in the kitchen, but they won’t last too long without the peel.

A trick to remove bamboo shoot peel is to make a gentle slice from the root to the tip of the shoots, then it’s much easier. The tip of the bamboo shoots should be cut off, too.

Although a very fresh vegetable, bamboo shoots must be fully cooked for a long time because fresh shoots contain hydrogen cyanide, a toxin.

Braised spring bamboo shoots are a highlight on the spring dinner table. After boiling the bamboo shoots in water with salt to remove the astringent flavor, they are simply seasoned with soy sauce, sugar and salt.

You can also add shitake mushrooms, which have a meat-like texture and rich flavor.

Not just a treat for the pandas
Liu Xiaolin / SHINE

Bamboo shoot and pork stew

For a vibrant plate of delicious spring vegetables, bamboo shoots and asparagus can be sautéed together because they share a similar flavor profile and present delightful green and white colors. They are also a great side to serve with fish or meats.

Thinly sliced spring bamboo shoots can be stir-fried with finely chopped shepherd’s purse, another spring specialty vegetable that’s usually used to fill dumplings.

An all-time favorite local delicacy and symbol of springtime is yanduxian, a delicious soup made with fresh spring bamboo shoots, cured pork and fresh pork.

The ingredients are simple, yet the saltiness of cured pork, richness of fresh pork and sweetness of bamboo shoots all blend together to create an unforgettable umami flavor. Knotted tofu sheets can be added to the soup for the contrast of a soft texture.

Because yanduxian is such a popular dish in Shanghai, the recipe is incorporated in seasonal treats like qingtuan and mooncake.

Not just a treat for the pandas
Imaginechina

Yanduxian is a classic soup in the area south of Yangtze River. 

Bamboo shoots can also be steamed with slices of cured pork in soy sauce, or with the addition of yellow croaker fish for a salty, umami dish.

In Shanghai, there’s also a famous snack known as xiasha shaomai, a steamed dumpling from Nanhui in the Pudong New Area that uses spring bamboo shoots and fresh pork as filling.

Bamboo shoots are one of the ingredients of babaoya, or eight-treasure duck, they add some sweetness and crunchiness to the stuffing.

Spring bamboo shoots are only available as a fresh vegetable for a limited time, after which the shoots are preserved as dry bamboo shoots or pickles.

Dried bamboo shoots can be rehydrated and then stewed in soups. The texture of dried shoots is quite soft and chewy compared to the crunchiness of fresh ones, but boast a unique flavor and can also soak up the flavors of meats and other vegetables in the soup.

Not just a treat for the pandas
Imaginechina

Bianjian

Bianjian, which are tender bamboo shoots that are boiled in salt water then smoked dry, are commonly stewed with duck to make a nourishing soup. They are less dry and retain more moisture during the process, so a shorter time is required for rehydration.

Pickled bamboo shoots are a popular side dish to accompany congee.

In Anji, a county in northwest Zhejiang known for its bamboo forests and for being the backdrop for the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” as well as in the Tianmu Mountain region, there’s a special local delicacy called hand-peeled bamboo shoots, made with smaller bamboo shoots that are cooked in salty brine and then chilled and packaged as a snack. Often served as a cold appetizer, the hand-peeled bamboo shoots are rich flavored and fun to eat.

Not just a treat for the pandas
Imaginechina

Hand-peeled bamboo shoot

Ricotta pasta with spring bamboo shoot

The tender bamboo shoots of spring are quite sweet and crunchy, which would work wonderfully in many dishes and not only limited to Chinese cooking. Recently, I’ve been loving adding bamboo shoots to pasta, and this recipe is a great vegetarian staple for springtime.

Ingredients:

3 fresh spring bamboo shoots

1 liter full-fat milk

250ml heavy cream

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

½ teaspoon of salt

Pasta of your choice

10g fresh basil

1 clove garlic

1 egg

Parmesan cheese

Salt, pepper and olive oil

Yield: three to four servings

Making fresh ricotta:

In a large pot, slowly bring the milk, cream and salt to a near boiling state over a moderate heat, stirring to avoid scorching.

Gradually add lemon juice while reducing the heat to low, let it simmer and stir constantly until the mixture curdles in about two to three minutes.

Pour the mixture through a fine linen cheesecloth and let it drain for 30 minutes to an hour, then the ricotta is ready. The fresh ricotta can be kept in the fridge for two days, it can also be used as a spread over bread.

Preparations:

In a separate bowl, add one cup of the fresh ricotta, one egg, 1 teaspoon of salt and lots of ground black pepper, whisking everything together until it’s smooth.

Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package but reduce the cooking time by a few minutes because the pasta will continue to cook in the sauce. I like to use fettuccine or orecchiette but any kind would work.

Add two ladles of the boiling pasta water gradually to the ricotta mixture, stir until it’s a smooth liquid.

Peel the bamboo shoots and cut in slices or chunks, heat up a pan (or a pot) and add a little bit of olive oil, cook the finely chopped garlic until the aroma comes out and then add the bamboo shoots and stir well. Then add a little bit of water and close the lid so the bamboo shoots are fully cooked through

Add the cooked pasta and ricotta sauce into the bamboo shoots and stir until everything is well mixed. Add pasta water if it’s getting too dry.

Season with salt and black pepper to taste, add in the finely chopped basil and grate some parmesan cheese before serving.

Not just a treat for the pandas
Li Anlan / SHINE

Ricotta pasta with spring bamboo shoot

Special Reports
Top