IT’S springtime in the bamboo-forested hills surrounding the city of Lin’an in east China, and that means busy mornings spent harvesting, packing and selling the edible bamboo shoots that the region is famous for.
Lin’an is in an area of Zhejiang Province where rich forests are estimated to supply up to two-thirds of China’s bamboo shoots, plus a range of other products derived from the fast-growing plant that have been produced for markets both at home and abroad.
Harvesting, which starts at dawn and takes several hours, has been a cornerstone of the region’s economy for countless centuries.
The shoots are a regular item on Chinese dinner tables, typically made into a soup, braised with meat or vegetables, or eaten as a snack, said Wang Guoying, a vendor at one of the city’s bamboo markets.
“The even larger ones, the hairy shoots, can be made into canned ones and sold overseas,” she said.
She was referring to mao sun, or “hairy shoots,” which get their name from their hair-like surfaces.
Another vendor, Lang Erhua, said: “Everyone knows how to cook bamboo shoots here.
“You cut the fresh shoots into thin pieces and braise it with pork and bones,” she said. “Or you can just braise it with plain water. Add a dash of ginger, garlic and, in the end, some salt and MSG. It’s delicious.”
Bamboo, which despite its woody appearance is a type of grass, is one of nature’s most versatile plants.
Its lightness and strength lend it to a range of uses including as building materials, chopsticks, furniture, window blinds, hats, musical instruments, baskets and ornamental arrangements. It is even utilized in paper and textile products.
Bamboo’s fast rate of growth is also legendary, with certain species reputed to grow a few centimeters per hour.
Bamboo is found in tropical and sub-tropical regions around the world but nowhere is it as important as in China where it has been put to good use for thousands of years.