Although it was not quite in season yet, the freshly parboiled bamboo shoot tasted amazingly sweet. The subtle tang in the aftertaste suggested the arrival of spring.
Rice cooked with large pieces of bamboo shoots, complete with the vivid young leaf buds of Japanese pepper, is also a feast for the eyes.
The delicate taste of the soy sauce brings out the flavor of the bamboo shoot.
The bamboo shoot in spring is a hallmark product of greengrocer Kanematsu along with "matsutake" mushroom in the autumn. The store handled the vegetable when it started operating in Kyoto’s Nishiki Market in 1882.
"In Kyoto, bamboo-shoot rice is often served around Boy’s Festival (May 5)," said Koji Ueda, 71, the third-generation proprietor of the store. He said bamboo shoots produced in Kyoto come into season in April and May.
Some say that "shun," or "being in season," of vegetables also means "shun" written in a different kanji character meaning "an instant." Since vegetables taste truly good for a brief period of time, it is hard to determine the right time. It could be this week or the next.
Ueda ran his business with the idea that if he missed the timing or quantity of purchases, he would not be able to make up for it until a year later.
"The season means everything to 'Kyo-yasai,’ the heirloom vegetables of Kyoto that are embedded in the lives of Kyoto residents," said Ueda.
At New Year’s, a parent potato of the "satoimo" yam called the "kashiraimo," which is the size of an adult fist, is served in a bowl of "zoni" soup. During the three days of the Bon season, people eat vegetables and not fish or meat.
"In Kyoto, people have done so since olden times. Things are changing little by little, but I think Kyo-yasai has sustained the long-standing food culture here."
People come to Nishiki Market for shopping on special occasions such as the Bon season and New Year’s. The scene is changing owing to an increasing number of tourists from overseas and other reasons.
But Kinji, Ueda’s 39-year-old son and successor, has certainly inherited his father’s resolve.
"As before, we hope to run Kanematsu as a store where people feel like coming on 'hare’ (special) days," he said.
The store is currently closed to make a fresh start. A new store is scheduled to open around April.
(Serves three to four)
1 bamboo shoot
2 "go" rice (a "go" is about 180 ml)
10 x 10 cm dried kombu kelp
3 Tbsp sake
1 tsp light soy sauce
400 cc water
A few leaf buds of Japanese pepper (kinome)
For parboiling (a handful of rice bran [komenuka], 2 to 3 dried chili pepper pods)
Peel two or three skin pieces from bamboo shoot. If large, cut vertically in half and place in pot. If small, make a vertical incision.
Add generous amount of water (not listed above), rice bran and chili pepper. Place drop lid and cook bamboo shoot over medium heat for 20 to 30 minutes.
When root part is soft enough to let bamboo skewer through smoothly, turn off heat and leave in pot to cool. Rinse and peel skin off. If necessary, cut off hard root part.
Rinse rice and drain in colander for about an hour.
Have 150 grams of root part of bamboo shoot ready and cut into bite-size pieces about 1 cm thick. The remaining part may be used in clear soup and other dishes.
Place rice in rice cooker, put kelp and bamboo shoot on top. Add designated amount of water and seasoning and cook.
When done, allow rice to steam for a while, remove kelp and mix content. Serve in a bowl and garnish with leaf bud.
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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column