Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Takenoko and Other Signs of Spring

They don't sell them in every supermarket, but this time of year you'll come across them sooner or later, whether it's in a high-end department store food basement or in a plastic crate on the sidewalk. That's right, tis the season to eat bamboo shoots. As a child, I spent many happy springtimes weeding my parents' lawn of the pesky, spiky shoots, which pop up at amazing distances from the parent plant and are not only adorable, with their layers of shiny brown outer leaves and mohawk of green fronds at the top, but also make wonderful play swords. The edible version enjoyed here are much fatter than those back home, and don't look like they could be quite as easily kicked over. They're still pretty cute, though.
Cute, but edible? I have to admit, takenoko is not my favorite vegetable. It's a lot of work to prepare if you buy it raw, so they're most often sold pre-boiled. Throughout the year, you can get vacuum-packed, pale-looking shoots in supermarkets, and in spring the pre-boiled shoots are sold floating in containers of water to be individually plucked and carried home, like a prize goldfish, in a little plastic bag. I can't help but feel that these are not the most sanitary conditions for a pre-cooked food, though this being Japan it's probably perfectly safe, and meant to prove that they're freshly cooked.

Bamboo shoots may be cause for us Westerners to stop and stare, but as I was preparing my shoot-avoiding lunch the other day, it made me think twice - after all, are those spiky, fat bamboo shoots really so different from that other springtime favorite, asparagus?

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