Several people have emailed asking about how to cook dried bamboo shoot. I looked up the familiar Asian ingredient in all my books but for some reason, dried bamboo shoot is seldom mentioned in Asian cookbooks. It is a terrific and standard ingredient sold at Chinese and Vietnamese markets. Dried bamboo shoot is shelved at Asian grocery stores alongside other dried foodstuffs, such as dried mushroom, seaweed, turnip, squid, beans, etc. In Vietnam, the shoots are simmered along with pork, duck, or chicken for a classic rice noodle soup called bun mang. Such preparations are traditionally saved for special occasions, such as the Lunar New Year – Tet Nguyen Dan. Since Tet is coming up (in 2010, it falls on Valentine's Day!), I cooked up a bunch of dried bamboo shoot today in preparation for the holiday cooking ahead.
What is the difference between fresh and dried bamboo shoot? Fresh has a crispness whereas dried has a meaty quality. Both have that musty bamboo funk but since bamboo shoot has to be cooked for a long time, the funk disappears. Bamboo shoot is called mang (“mahng”) in Vietnamese and dried bamboo shoot is mang kho (“mahng koh”). Dried bamboo shoots are not hard, but rather leathery. Once reconstituted and boiled until chewy-tender, dried bamboo shoots have a chewy-tenderness and pleasant sweetness that’s not found in fresh or canned bamboo. Whenever I cook dried bamboo shoot, I marvel at how it transforms its cooking broth into a perfumy brew. If you’ve had Japanese ramen noodle soup, chances are that you’ve had dried bamboo shoot (called menma) as a topping.