The bamboo story
(Printed by Tokyo Notice Board magazine, May 18-May 24, 2012 edition. It’s the first time I’ve been paid for writing.)
On Sunday 15th my wife went to the ShizuokaPrefecture countryside south west of Tokyofor the day with some of her company friends to do bamboo picking, called “takenokogari.” “Takenoko” means “bamboo.” They also picked strawberries in a greenhouse.
When she told me - shouted at me is more like it - early Sunday morning that she was going to do “takenokogari” I was only half awake and I didn’t know what she was saying. But it was obvious when she came home in the evening carrying a 10kg bamboo sprout in a plastic shopping bag. It was huge and had the shape of a large-bore artillery shell like what you see in the movies - you know, war movies or documentaries where you see soldiers shoving shells into the breech of the howitzer.
Bamboo is dug out of the ground like potatoes or carrots in the spring when the green shoots are just breaking the surface. The thing about them, though, is that they are like icebergs because 90% of the plant is below ground. You have to dig down fairly deeply to reach the point where they are either cut or broken off from the roots that anchor them. I guess technically the entire thing is a root. For botanists bamboo ranks as a kind of paleontological tall grass, anachronistically surviving into the modern world like coelocanths and sharks. Junko boasted that hers was the largest of her group. It looked as big as a small Thanksgiving turkey.
The sprout had a rough skin, sort of like a pineapple, but you peel it off like an avocado or an onion to reach the softer layer beneath. Then it can be sectioned with a knife and readied for boiling. The thing lay around on the living room floor until Tuesday night when Junko cut it up and boiled it in plain water. Then she boiled it some more for Wednesday’s dinner, this time adding soy sauce and sugar to the water. On Tuesday night it smelled like elementary school paste stewing in the big pot. The kitchen smelled like a lab dedicated to the mass production of paste. But when I ate it on Wednesday night it was delicious, especially with mayonnaise, with a pale yellow color and the consistency of a lightly boiled potato.
I’ve eaten bamboo before, but never this fresh. I’ve eaten the prepared stuff that you find wrapped and on display in the supermarkets. The fresh stuff is an excavating adventure. Get out your rubbers and your pith helmet