Boiling water in bamboo

Boiling water in green bamboo stems (‘culms’ would be the botanically correct term) is not a big skill, but it represents the basic cooking technique in Southeast Asian forests. One of the following articles will build on that and will explain rice cooking in bamboo. Another cooking method is using bamboo stems split horizontally in the middle. These traverse bamboo sections are used for advanced primitive cooking methods and will be presented in detail in another article.

Boiling of water by a Mentawai in Sumatra

Bamboo species used for boiling water

Generally, bamboo used for boiling water should have a thick wall and long intersections between the nodes. The inner stem diameter should be 3 inches / 76 mm or higher. This ensures a large area heated by the fire. The amount of water to be boiled depends on the length of the bamboo stem.

Giant Bamboo species at Khao Sok National Park in Thailand

In Southeast Asia, mainly Dendrocalamus species, a tropical genus of giant clumping bamboo in the grass family, are used. See further information here. But giant bamboo is not always available when walking in the forests or if somebody wants a cup of warm water or tea.

Sweet Bamboo at Pu Luong Nature Reserve in Vietnam

A good alternative is various species of Phyllostachys. See here. This species has somewhat thinner stems but still thick walls and long internodes and is widely available.

How to boil water in bamboo?

After determining the amount of water to be boiled, the required length of bamboo will be estimated. Initial cuts are set below the lowest node of standing green bamboo, still to be conveniently reached with the machete. These cuts should be about 1 ¾’’/ 4 cm below the node. After cutting free the bamboo stem, the next set of cuts should be below the node of the required length. After having the cooking vessel in hand, the diaphragms at the nodes have to be pierced without damaging the bottom node. The inner skin of the stems is left as it is. The result of these cuttings is a bamboo pipe, which is closed at the bottom and open at its end.

Setup for boiling water at Pu Luong Nature Reserve in Vietnam

This pipe will now be filled with water and propped up by an X-shaped support of two wooden sticks. The elevation angle should be about 45 degrees. The whole setup now looks like a military mortar ready to shoot.

A fire is stocked at the lower end. The time from starting the fire to a rolling boil of the water inside depends on various factors. Which is the heat intensity of the fire, the size of the heated pipe area, and the amount of water to be boiled. In our case, it always took about 15 – 30 minutes to boil. After boiling, the remnants of the vessel will be burnt or kept for future firewood.

Lessons learned from boiling water in bamboo:

  • Bamboo species with large stem diameters, thick walls, and long internodes are best suited for boiling water.
  • The most challenging task is to pierce the diaphragms at the nodes. A thin and pointed bamboo stem with short internodes will be used.
  • Starting the fire to a rolling boil will take 15 – 30 minutes.

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