Crunchy, fresh takenoko (bamboo shoots) are one of the quintessential spring flavors in Japan. While ready-to-use parboiled bamboo shoots are easily accessible at any supermarket, nothing beats the flavor and fragrance of fresh bamboo shoots, eaten as close to the time they were dug up as possible.

This recipe is for Tosa-ni, a traditional way of enjoying the crunchy vegetable. After parboiling, the shoots are simmered with lots of umami-rich katsuobushi (skipjack tuna flakes). The name comes from Tosa (present-day Kochi Prefecture), which has been famous for its katsuobushi for hundreds of years.

When picking a fresh shoot, avoid ones where the base has turned brown. Oval-shaped shoots are said to be tastier and tenderer than neat round ones. Parboiling with unrinsed rice, or rice bran and chili pepper, is thought to reduce the bitterness of the bamboo shoots even more, and some stores sell fresh bamboo shoots with a little packet of rice bran.

Recipe: Takenoko Tosa-ni (bamboo shoot with katsuobushi)

Serves: 2 to 4

Prep: 1 day; cook: 15 min.

Note: To parboil larger quantities of bamboo shoots, double or triple the amount of rice or rice bran and chili peppers. Store parboiled bamboo shoots in a bowl filled with enough water to cover them in the refrigerator for up to a week, changing the water every day.

1 250-gram fresh, raw bamboo shoot
1 cup (200 milliliters) unrinsed raw rice OR komenuka (rice bran)
1 red chili pepper
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sake
1 tablespoon mirin (sweet, fermented cooking alcohol)
½ tablespoon sugar
200 milliliters water
10 grams (about 1 cup) katsuobushi (skipjack tuna or bonito flakes)

1. Cook the bamboo shoot as soon as you get it home. Remove the tough and dirty outer layers and rinse well. Make several shallow vertical cuts into the bamboo shoot. Put it in a pan with the unrinsed rice or rice bran, and the chili pepper, plus enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook slowly, adding hot water if needed to keep the bamboo shoot immersed, skimming off any scum, for at least one hour. Leave to cool overnight, completely immersed in the cooking water. (Put a piece of crumpled foil or a paper towel on top to act as a lid.)

2. Take the bamboo shoot out and grasp it by the pointed end, holding the base steady with your other hand. Slowly twist the pointed end to remove the skin — it should slip right off if the bamboo shoot is properly tender.

3. Rinse off any remaining bits of bran or rice, and cut the bamboo shoot into bite-sized pieces. Put the pieces into a pan with the soy sauce, sake, mirin, sugar and water. Bring to a boil and simmer over medium-low heat, turning occasionally, until the liquid is almost all gone (about 10 to 12 minutes).

4. While the bamboo shoot is simmering, put the katsuobushi in a dry (un-oiled) frying pan over medium heat. Stir it around while breaking it up into very fine flakes, until it has a toasty fragrance. Turn off the heat.

5. When the liquid in the bamboo shoot pan is almost gone, add the dry-roasted katsuobushi flakes and mix rapidly to coat. Serve with a bright green garnish such as blanched nanohana (broccolini) or kinome (sanshō pepper leaf).

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.