The Brilliance of Bamboo
by Kate Heyhoe
I recently received a gorgeous cookbook, sent to me from Beijing.
Even at the worldly Global Gourmet, a cookbook from China is a rare event (like never). Inspirations: Recipes Featuring Bamboo Shoots is no ordinary cookbook. "Bamboo is increasingly attracting interest in the non-bamboo growing countries," reads the cover letter, before getting to the real reason for devoting an entire cookbook to bamboo shoots. Humanitarianism, it seems, is at its roots (or dare I say, shoots).
The International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR; www.inbar.net) is a not-for-profit, and the only intergovernmental organization headquartered in China. Its goal: to improve the livelihoods of the many millions of people who live with and work with bamboo. Women and children, most of whom live at or below subsistence levels in developing countries, gather the majority of bamboo and rattan harvested for market.
INBAR's method is to promote bamboo products in places where they are less known. This includes Inspirations' recipes for bamboo shoots, created by chefs around the globe, from Heinz von Holzen in Indonesia to Rainer Zinngrebe in Mexico, and the recipes are printed in both English and German. Stunning color photographs reflect the humble bamboo shoot's ability to dine in the finest settings, with ingredients as diverse as lamb loin and king prawn, truffles and foie gras.
According to INBAR, development based on bamboo and rattan is an effective way to improve the livelihoods of rural poor people. Bamboo plants are natural vehicles for development because rural people generally have adequate access to these crops. They require only a modest capital investment to start generating steady income. In many parts of the tropical world the rural poor are completely dependent on bamboo and rattan for their shelter and for every-day utilities. As a result, they've built up extensive local knowledge of how to utilize these crops. Product development is often very localized and people may discover an ideal solution in one locale that can be used in other places.
The bamboo plant grows in tropical and temperate regions, on riverbanks and steep slopes. Bamboo is very adaptable, with some species being deciduous and others evergreen.
Bamboo is the most diverse group of plants in the grass family, and the most primitive sub-family. Bamboos put out several full length, full diameter, naturally pre-finished, ready-to-use culms ("stems") each year.
Bamboo shoots are the young stems or culms, which develop once a year in spring or autumn. They are rare at other times of year and considered a delicacy in Asian cooking.
A "Grade A" shoot is generally one and a half times the diameter of the base. The best are plump, straight and bear dense nodes, and measure about 15 to 30 cm long.
Bamboo shoots are a nutritious source of protein, carbohydrates, and minerals; water makes up about a third of their weight. They're also high in fiber. Some Asians believe bamboo shoots have medicinal properties.
An average sixty-foot tree cut for market takes 60 years to replace. But a sixty-foot bamboo cut for market takes 59 days to replace.
Apart from traditional uses, bamboo has many new applications as a substitute for wood, which is rapidly depleting, and as an alternative to more expensive materials.
Besides being a food source, bamboo has more than 1500 uses. Just a few include: musical instruments, paper (2.2 million tons of bamboo are used in India for this purpose), furniture, construction, dams, dikes, windmills, fishing tools and boats, flooring, cutting boards, and acupuncture needles.
Over one billion people in the world live in bamboo houses.
Bamboo is known as the "wood of the poor" (India), "friend of the people" (China) and "brother" (Vietnam). Millions of people depend on this plant for their livelihood. It has become so much a part of the culture and memory of societies that the existence of a future Bamboo Age has not been ruled out. Next time you open a can of bamboo shoots, or pluck them fresh from your local Asian market, take a moment to appreciate all that this simple, age-defying wonder plant means to people wherever it grows, and appreciate it for both its delicate flavor and its diverse applications.
Inspirations Bamboo Shoot Recipes
Copyright © 2004, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created May 2004