Pungent yet delicious, pickled bamboo shoots can instantly spruce up your mundane meals
The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists - goes a Japanese proverb. Regarded as a symbol of resilience and humility, bamboo shoots are synonymous with Southeast Asian culinary heritage. Bamboo plays an important part in many cultures. A textural gem, bamboo shoots render an unmissable taste and smell to any dish it’s added to. But if you want to sample its pure piquancy, we suggest you try the bamboo shoot pickle. Northeast India is a treasure of naturally growing bamboo groves. The region’s temperate climatic conditions and untouched hilly terrains are congenial for the species. Naturally, the edible bamboo sprouts form an integral part of the local cuisines and cooking techniques. It’s one flavoursome ingredient that binds the many indigenous communities of the northeastern states, so much so that the very smell of it can make one homesick.
Naga cuisine’s bamboo shoot-flavoured chicken, fish and pork curries are famous globally, while your trip to Upper Assam is not considered a good one without haahe-bahe, an expression fondly used to describe a luxurious dish of duck meat cooked with tender bamboo shoots and a bit of spices. You must also taste the Manipuri-style spicy and aromatic fermented bamboo shoot stir-fry, called Soibum. On the other hand, Pikey Pila - a condiment prepared using sun-dried and burnt leaves, grasses, bamboo shoots, and stems - is a definitive dish of Arunachal Pradesh’s Apatani cuisine. Mizoram’s Bamboo Shoot Fry is also quite popular. It’s usually fried with local herbs and served with steamed rice. The Khasis of Meghalaya also eat bamboo shoots in various forms - curries, broths, stir-fries, and more. To top it off, the famous Apong - a sweet, malty, and potent alcoholic drink - is served in bamboo hollows that lend their taste and texture to the beverage.
What rules the roost, however, is everyone’s favourite bamboo shoot pickle. The basic ingredients used for making this pickle are fermented bamboo shoot, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, black cumin seeds, red chilli powder, bird’s eye chilli, Naga king chilli, vinegar, mustard oil, and salt. You can also try a simpler version of the bamboo shoot pickle recipe that includes garlic, chilli, and mustard seeds paste, turmeric powder, mustard oil, and salt.
Eaten as a side dish or a condiment almost all year long, pickled bamboo shoots are said to help stimulate appetite. According to many, bamboo shoot pickles can instantly enhance the taste of regular meals, making them delicious and aromatic. The traditional and indigenous dishes of Northeast India are often prepared sans a strong influence of spices and oil, unlike the other parts of the country. Thus, bamboo shoots are used as a natural taste enhancer. That said, many find the pungent smell and flavour of bamboo shoots almost intolerable. One may not get used to it at once, as it takes a while to develop a taste for dishes cooked with bamboo shoots. Using the ingredient in moderation may serve as a trick for beginners.
It’s interesting to note here that during the Coronavirus pandemic, bamboo shoots were among the top trending recipe searches around the world. The many videos floating on social media, where Asians shared glimpses of their kitchen adventures using these edible sprouts during lockdowns were said to have led to their instant popularity. Among the most talked-about dishes were stir-fried mushrooms and bamboo shoots, pork and bamboo shoots and ramen.