Kagoshima Prefecture is covered with dense and beautiful bamboo forests that spread across the region. In the more local areas, outside Kagoshima City, you will encounter these forests wherever you go as they are usually between households, blending into the mountainous landscape. When spring comes, locals know it is peak season to take a stroll around bamboo woods to hunt for takenoko.
Takenoko, in Japanese literally means “a child of a bamboo.” For people from the West it is better known as bamboo shoots or bamboo sprouts. For those who do not know anything about bamboo, takenoko are bamboo culms that grow easily and rapidly out of the ground. They are simply the newly sprouted canes that form just under the soil and have a firm, crisp texture.
Indigenous people have abundant knowledge about the best takenoko. Each year, in the middle of spring, they begin looking for these bamboo canes, which are used as great source of fiber-rich food, a building material and for medicinal purposes.
During one of my frequent trips to Kagoshima Prefecture, I was lucky enough to participate in one of these “hunting” excursions. I was surprised to find that after a day of heavy rain takenoko grow rapidly and spontaneously. We were able to spot few. As bamboo grows from rhizomes, which are underground stems responsible for the growth of new nodes, it is important to dig the cane out in a way that will not damage all the stems so new bamboo can grow. Unless a bamboo itself is an obstruction, then precautions are not necessary.
Digging out takenoko was quite a challenging task as the stems are strongly and deeply connected with “the mother.” Once we managed to do it, I was astonished by their size and weight. To my bewilderment, it was really chunky! As the culm has a woody and very thick exterior that is almost impossible to chew, bamboo shoot needs to be peeled before cooking. Once it is cooked in water for a couple of hours, you can enjoy its sweet and subtle taste by opening the leaves and dipping it into a bit of mayonnaise or butter. The other option is to grill it and eat it once it is tender inside and crispy outside. I have to say, it is really yummy and healthy!