Bamboo shoot harvesting at the Red River

With more than 70 species of bamboo over the country, we can easily find bamboo thickets anywhere in Vietnam. Many of them could nurture one of the most popular and favored vegetarian foods for Vietnamese people, which is bamboo shoot harvesting.

Two main types of bamboo along the Red River bank near Hanoi

Along the Red River’s left bank near Hanoi, the occurrence of bamboo appeared hundreds of years ago. They help to protect the bank from erosion as well as other destructive acts. There are two main types of bamboo along the left bank: the spiny bamboo or thorny bamboo (Bambusa blumeana; Vietnamese name: tre gai)  – this type of bamboo has been popular in Vietnam for thousands of years and its main purpose is to create protection and the bamboo stands are an important source of building material with quick growing speed. However, this type of bamboo shoot is difficult to be processed as food due to its bitter flavors and it contains more toxic ingredients.

Another type of bamboo along the bank is Dendrocalamus latiflorus Munro, also known as sweet bamboo (Vietnamese name: tre ngọt, tre Mạnh Tông). This type of bamboo has got a light green stem with longer sections between the nodes than the spiny bamboo, large and bold green leaves, and especially, sweeter, and more nutritious bamboo shoots.

Sweet bamboo shoot harvesting

The sweet bamboo shoots can be harvested 8 months a year except in wintertime. The bamboo shoots start growing at the end of the spring and bloom within summer and early autumn in Hanoi (from May to September). Shoots with lengths from 9 to 15 inches are the best for food.

What you need to prepare before harvesting bamboo shoots are long boots, gloves, a long-sleeved outfit, and a special weeding knife.

Cooking the shoots

The bamboo shoots after being harvested need to be peeled from some outer layers of sheaths. Using your best kitchen knife for slicing the big core of the shoot with each slice 1 – 3 mm thick will be best. The sliced bamboo shoots need to be pickled in diluted salt water (1 or 2 tsp of salt for one liter of water) for 24 hours. Then boil the bamboo shoots for at least 10 minutes and strain them off. Put these cooked shoots into cold water and use them as so-called ‘fresh’ bamboo shoots. Fresh bamboo shoots could be put into the duck or chicken soup. Boil for a few minutes and serve with green onion.

The second way of processing and keeping fresh bamboo for a long time after 24-hour pickling time is to boil it in water and let it cool down. And then put chilies into the pickling pot. After 5 days to one week, the fresh bamboo shoot will be fermented and become sour. Serve it as a sour side dish. Besides, Vietnamese usually use these pickled chilly bamboo shoots to cook with fish and create a very mouthwatering soup.

Lessons learned from harvesting sweet bamboo shoots

  • The best time to harvest bamboo shoots is summertime
  • The preferred bamboo species for providing bamboo shoots is sweet bamboo with deep green and large leaves
  • Processing bamboo shoots takes time as toxic ingredients have to be removed
  • Well-processed bamboo shoots are delicious and nutritious

All photos in this article © Ms. Nguyen Thi Thu Hai

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