April 25, 2015

Fresh Bamboo Shoots - How to Prepare 準備新鮮冬筍

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I grew up thinking food only came from supermarkets and so am forever grateful that I have had the chance to discover and experience the wet markets of Hong Kong where anything and everything culinary can be found for your eating pleasure.  

There's nothing quite like the subtle thrill inside as you wander through the bustling real food markets on your daily round, keeping the corner of your eye on the lookout for whatever food treasures that day will bring.  

I was so excited with my latest discovery that we found in a humble dirt sprinkled box, these strange horn shaped plants? vegetables? that turned out to be Fresh Bamboo Shoots!  Woo-hoo!  I've always wanted to try fresh bamboo shoots!  It turns out that these fresh bamboo shoots are not only easy to prepare but much more delicious than the canned bamboo shoots that we usually use.  (But of course it is!)

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Bamboo never ceases to amaze me.  There are so many things that the bamboo can do!  Let's see...inspire amazing Chinese paintings throughout the centuries...provide structural wood for building works...be a beautiful shady plant for your garden...make all kinds of lovely bamboo furniture and utensils...and of course, you can cook and eat the scrummilicious shoots of the bamboo plants.  

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Bamboo shoots are baby bamboo plants just as they sprout out from the earth.  At this moment their flesh is tender and aromatic, mildly sweet, mildly bitter, tasting a bit like artichoke heart (yum!) and uniquely like bamboo with a nice tender yet crunchy texture.  Just really, really good.  Fruit of the earth and all that.  

You can see the bamboo sprout in the image above, the tender little horn poking out of the earth.  Did you know that the bamboo shoot is a favorite snack of the panda?  Nom, nom!

Winter bamboo shoots, or 冬筍, are small tender things, having been dug out of the earth before they ever see the light of day.  Most canned bamboo shoots seem to use the winter shoots.  Spring bamboo shoots, or 春筍, are cut before they reach 10" and obviously are chunkier with a sweetness in the tip.  We used spring bamboo shoots.

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The bamboo shoot is wrapped outside in tough outer leaves that you will need to peel away.  Just slice a bit into the shoot all the way down on one side. Then grab each side with a hand and peel away the outer skins.  The inside should be tender to the touch.  If you feel it's still tough, peel away a couple more layers.  The bottom of the stem will be tougher so cut off a good bit from the bottom.  Anything that feels woodsy is to be discarded.

bamboo shoots, boil, fresh, how to, prepare, 新鮮, 準備, 筍, vegetable, vegetarian

Don't eat the bamboo shoot raw as it may contain hydrocyanic acid, a toxin.  You will need to boil the shoots first in order to flush these toxins out and remove any bitterness.  Once you have boiled the bamboo shoots you can then let it cool and then slice it thinly at a diagonal.  So pretty!  And now you're all ready for all kinds of delicious bamboo stir fries!
Fresh Bamboo Shoots - How to Prepare

(makes enough bamboo shoot for one stir fry)  
(Prep time: 5 mins  Cook time: 35 mins)


  • fresh bamboo shoots
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 6 cups water reserved from rinsing rice (or just plain water is fine too)


Wash the dirt off the bamboo shoots.  Using a sharp knife, slice through the outer leaves along one side all the way from tip to the bottom of the shoot.  Use your finger tips to pry open along the cut you have just made.

Once pried open stick your fingers in and around the outer skin and pull away from the creamy white shoot inside.  You should be able to remove the whole outer skin.  

Check the now peeled shoot to see if top layer tender.  If not soft and tender, remove layers until tender.  Shave off any knobby fibrous bits around the stem.  Cut off around an inch of the tough end of the stem until you reach the tender part of the shoot. No woody fibrous bits should remain. 

Reserve the water used for rinsing your rice until you have enough to cover the bamboo shoots by a good inch in a pot.  Or you can also just use plain water.  When water is boiling add in the sugar and the peeled bamboo shoots.  Let simmer over medium heat for 30 mins.

It is ready when a knife goes through with no resistance and there is no more bitterness.  If still bitter change the water and let boil for another 5-10 minutes.  Let cool in the covered pot.  When cool enough, slice first in half lengthwise, then into 1/4" thick slices at an diagonal, or into 1/4" by 3" strips.

The bamboo is now prepared!  You can eat it as is, cool it in the fridge and make a nice salad, or add it into some delicious Chinese stir fries! 

Tip: See our quick and easy recipe for Stir Fry Bamboo and Mushrooms  炒二冬 | 冬筍炒冬菇 here!

Tip:  Cooked bamboo shoots will keep in a covered container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.



  1. Hey Chowringhee Lane - Thanks! ~ellen

  2. A very useful article, Ellen! We have a huge cluster of giant bamboo in our garden. Plenty of shoots right now but they taste slightly bitter. I shall try your preparation method ...
    Jorge (Australia)

    1. Your welcome jorget! You're so lucky to have your own source of bamboo, hope that you enjoy many delicious bamboo meals. ~ellen

  3. I live in Los Angeles. Do you know where I can buy fresh bamboo shoots. All the stores I go to have canned with lots of preservative added

    1. Hi Yaz - There's a farm called Yao Cheng Farm that sells at a lot of farmers markets in the LA area and they grow bamboo shoots. Hope this helps!~ellen

    2. I occasionally find fresh bamboo shoots in the Asian markets in Orange County and Inland Empire where I live. I found some last week at Ranch 99 in Corona.

    3. Randy - thanks for the very useful info! ~ellen