Smuggled Thai Bamboo Shoot Salad Recipe

Soop Naw Mai

I’ve loved bamboo shoots since my childhood as they are often found in cuisines I adore such as Thai and Shanghaiese. In Vancouver, really fresh bamboo shoots are rare and the canned variety is commonly used in restaurants. In such case, intensely flavoured sauces are necessary to cover up the musty and sour smell created during the canning process.
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One New Years Eve, Tim introduced me to a Taiwanese bamboo shoot salad where blanched, fresh bamboo shoots were simply dressed with light mayo. Have you ever had a food revelation where your perception of a certain food is turned upside-down at a distinct moment? For the first time, I tasted how delicately fruity and sweet fresh bamboo shoots are. So when Tim asked me what I wanted as a souvenir from Taiwan, I jokingly answered, “some fresh bamboo shoots”. Imagine my surprise when he presented two juicy and green bamboo shoots he smuggled in for me!
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I decided to showcase these precious (illegal) imports by turning them into two salads. The first is a Thai style salad on a bed of crispy jicama and bean sprouts. The spicy cilantro and mint dressing is very versatile and can be used as a dip or over steamed fish or chicken. Toasted rice powder is the essential element that lends a unique, nutty aroma without the cloying heaviness sesame oil can bring. You could purchase toasted rice powder but it would be silly to considering how little time and effort it takes to make it. Plus, it gives you bragging rights when you reveal to your friends that you made that “je ne sais quoi” from scratch.
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Keep posted for a Japanese twist on the bamboo shoot salad featuring buckwheat soba crisps and wasabi mayo.

How to prepare fresh bamboo shoots according to Tim’s Grandma:

Boil the bamboo shoots in a large pot of water over medium heat for fifteen minutes. Turn the heat off, cover, and leave it alone for at least one hour. This process removes bitterness. Bamboo shoots are more bitter towards the tip.

When cool enough to handle, trim away the tough outer leaves by layer.
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Soop Naw Mai


1 cooked bamboo shoot, sliced into thin strips
1/2 small jicama, peeled, sliced into thin strips
2 handfuls of bean sprouts, root and sprout ends removed

1 bunch of cilantro, chopped finely
2 bunches of fresh mint, chopped finely
2 scallions, chopped
1-2 Thai chili, de-seeded, minced
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 tbs toasted rice powder (made from glutenous rice)
2 tbs flavorless oil. I used grapeseed.
1 tsp brown sugar


Toasted Rice Powder
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In a dry pan, toast glutenous rice over medium heat until golden brown and fragrant. Remove from heat and cool completely. Grind it into powder with a pestle and mortar.

OR use a spice/ coffee grinder, pour the powder back into the mortar, and pretend you did all the work by hand.

To Serve

Combine all the dressing ingredients. Taste and adjust to achieve the right balance of tanginess, spiciness, and saltiness.

Dress the bamboo shoots. Divide into portions and mound over beds of bean sprouts and jicama. Serve very cold.
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Serves 4

  1. July 03, 2009 by Tangled Noodle

    I’ve never seen fresh bamboo shoots before! One of my recent food revelations was about jackfruit – I had only ever tasted the canned versions. I didn’t even know what they looked in their natural state until I saw the enormous jackfruits in the Philippines and tasted one immediately after it was opened. Heaven!

    This gorgeous salad is well-worth risking the ire of Customs officials!

  2. July 03, 2009 by pg

    I never knew fresh bamboo was illegal –I could have sworn I’ve seen it around town.

    Seeing as bamboo grows here, why would it be illegal? Unless importing it yourself is illegal (stupid border searches –I still weep for the several pounds (ok, ok a shade under 10 wheels of brie) I was tried to get across the border from Germany once. Sigh).

    How’s the teeth?

  3. July 03, 2009 by jenn

    You lucky girl!!!! I would do anything to get some fresh bamboo shoots. But alas I can only use the canned stuff. Awesome salad!

  4. July 03, 2009 by Mel (admin)

    pg: Fresh bamboo itself is not, but sneaking it through customs is. I believe only dried plants are allowed across. I mourn for your loss of cheese :(

    I’m almost all better :) thanks for remembering!

  5. July 04, 2009 by Erica

    I can’t stop looking at your pictures!!!!They are amazing.

  6. July 04, 2009 by s. stockwell

    We are just amazed by this recipe? we have bamboo, plenty of bamboo? we are wondering if our California bamboo would work for this. They are not nearly as large as the ones you are showing. but, we have lots of them? wondering?

  7. July 04, 2009 by Jessie

    that looks amazing, I love that it reminds me so much of being on a beach just from looking at the photo!

  8. July 04, 2009 by Mel (admin)

    @ s. stockwell I’m sure it would work! Young ones are probably best too. Less fibrous. Let me know how it goes!

  9. July 04, 2009 by Cookin' Canuck

    Wow, those bamboo shoots are beautiful! I’m sad to say that I’ve never seen uncanned ones before. Thanks for introducing me to something new, though it sounds like I might have a hard time getting my hands on some.

  10. July 06, 2009 by Miranda

    Wow…Great pics…
    This is proving more and more that I need a new camera.
    I love your recipe…It looks Refreshing. I admit also, I never seen anything besides canned bamboo…This is inspiring.

  11. July 07, 2009 by Debi

    Would love to find some fresh bamboo shoots, as this salad sounds out of this world. Saved this recipe as one to try!

  12. July 07, 2009 by Tatiana

    I adore bamboo shoots, but have never had fresh ones. My fave so far, are bamboo shoots in chili oil. They are so addictive I can eat a whole jar in one sitting. Sad but true.

  13. July 08, 2009 by zenchef

    That is so illegal! I would never smuggle anything to another country (cough-cough) :-P
    Looks like it was worth the risks though. Thanks for the tutorial. I never prepared bamboo shoots from scratch and that looks delicious!

  14. July 08, 2009 by KennyT

    Fresh bamboo shoots are so yum!

  15. July 08, 2009 by hungrynez

    i like your photos! i love the recipes as well! keep it up!

  16. July 09, 2009 by Zahavah/Gayle

    I have been known to *ahem* accidentally have things in my luggage that are, er, not really allowed across borders…and it’s always worth it. Salad looks lovely!

  17. July 14, 2009 by Catalina

    This looks very attractive and interesting. I love that it is unlike anything else we would encounter — unless we were in your kitchen. I have the good fortune of having a healthy stand of bamboo in my garden. (I live in Mexico). I’m going to try and dig up some shoots. Thanks for the inspiration.

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