In Japan the months of April and May are when skyward shooting bamboo have their lives cut short in order for the tender young shoots (takenoko) make their way into stores, restaurants and onto the dining tables of discerning home cooks. The store above and below, in the northern section of the Teramachi shopping arcade, always showcases the very best fresh bamboo shoots (at a price). Some are preserved or pickled for use in the off season. The store also showcases very fine quality, expensive mushrooms such as matsutake when they decide to pop their heads out of the earth in the autumn months.
Below one of the store workers peels and trims the coarse, papery skin from the raw bamboo shoots
A few minutes away in Nishiki koji - a long, narrow food market also referred to as Kyoto no daikokoro or Kyoto's kitchen you can also find the prepped bamboo, often already boiled in water with nuka (rice bran) to remove any impurities - and ready to prepare any way you like. Think canned bamboo shoots only a million times better! Cooking bamboo from scratch requires a bit of work so many people buy them already prepped to this stage.
Bamboo shoots in season are wonderfully sweet and nutty - with hints of sweetcorn and young coconut - it is a real treat to consume these beauties fresh and young before they start to become more fibrous. A very simple and common way of preparing them is to simmer in dashi with some wakame through the end - the flavours marrying so well together - a vegetarian surf and turf if I may be so crass (recipe in my book Zenbu Zen - see Wakatake no Nimono). I love the mellow, earthy but seaspray fragrant combination.
Slices of the young bamboo shoot are also great crumbed and deep-fried or added to soups or simmered dishes. Also Takenoko Gohan or bamboo shoot rice is delicious, the flavour made more nutty by the addition of small nuggets of golden fried tofu (recipe also in Zenbu Zen). Kinome (fresh sansho leaves also in season at this time) finely chopped through the rice adds a refreshing peppery, citrus like accent - just deeevine. All simple dishes which showcase the natural beauty and pure flavours of the ingredients at their peak.
I recently enjoyed this dish below in one of my favourite izakaya's in Kyoto - bamboo shoot sushi! Seasoned rice with finely chopped, aromatic shiso leaves, tucked into bamboo shoot rings and served with a little mellow umeboshi (pickled plum) paste. Served with good quality salty soy for dipping. So good.