Harvested year-round and edible only when the tip of the shoot emerges above soil, it is not the most groundbreaking species to reveal from my travels in Sulawesi.
But after eating bamboo in East Asian dishes since I was a child, it took 34 years before I was able to experience harvesting a young shoot in the wild and cooking it within the hour.
My guides, Oms Henri and Sale, and I had just emerged from Taman Nasional Bogani Nani Wartabone located in North Sulawesi after a three-hour hike. During this hike, Om Sale, a village local with his sharp eyes and broad knowledge about the surrounding plants, fed me edible information by scooping up fallen fruit, digging out seeds and picking young leaves. Naturally, it continued after we left the jungle.
Following a pit stop at a coconut tree to quench our thirst, Om Henri pointed to a dense bamboo cluster and a new shoot peeking out above ground.
“Have you ever eaten buluh (bamboo shoot)?” he asked.
“Of course!” I replied. “I grew up eating it, but I’ve never tried it Minahasan style.”
“Okay, let’s cut it out and my wife can cook it.”
Om Henri removed and peeled the shoot with his machete and we walked under the scorching Indonesian sun for 45 minutes until reaching his house. His wife, Tante Linda, then took over preparing the bamboo shoot in a traditional Minahasan method.
As I observed in other home kitchens from my travel in this region, Minahasan cuisine is identifiable by two characteristics—woku, a spice blend made differently in each household, and tumis, or stir-frying, fresh aromatics.
Tante Linda used her lisung batu, or a stone mortar and a very long pestle that allowed her to grind the ingredients while standing, to make woku from garlic, shallots, candlenut, turmeric and chilies. Then she heated oil in a wok and slipped in fresh lemongrass and pandan leaves to release their fragrance, followed by the woku and continued to stir-fry the aromatics before adding fresh coconut milk and the bamboo.
This usage of fresh herbs and spices, and subsequent frying to extract the most flavor from their essential oils, makes Minahasan cuisine distinctly vibrant in comparison to other cuisines in Sulawesi.
Sitting at their kitchen table, sweating profusely from the double punch of humidity and chilies, I tasted a familiar vegetable for the first time again—a reoccurring experience throughout my travels in Indonesia.
Note: Candlenuts are nuts commonly used in Indonesian cuisine to help thicken the consistency of a dish. If you don’t have access to candlenuts, raw peanuts or almonds are an appropriate substitute.