Sarawakians eat a lot of shoots, just to name a few, wild bamboo shoots, nipah palm shoots, nibong palm shoots, wild sago palm shoots (pantu), bindang palm shoots, palah palm shoots and there are more leafy shoots on the list. Among all these shoots, coconut shoot and the bamboo shoot are the most popular and delicious in ‘masak lemah’ style of cooking.
The cross section of the ‘younger’ shoot has pretty pattern on it. The lower part of the shoot is harder therefore is usually discarded. Cut into bite size or cubes as you like and cook curry, Sarawakian style with it. Stir-fry it with thick soy sauce and chillies like how we fry bamboo shoot. In Chinese it is called ‘Ya Xim’ – 椰心 (umbut kelapa).
How to keep it fresh and less brown due to oxidation? Cut the shoots in bite size and soak in water. Keep in the fridge. It can last for a few days.
Texture wise, coconut shoots resemble the wild rice stem (zizania latifolia) which is jiaobai (茭白) in Chinese/禾薯（Heshu) in Hakka. In the sixties and seventies, this vegetable could be found in Siburan Village at 17th mile Kuching-Serian Road. Paddy farmers in this village planted them in their paddy field. Coconut shoot tastes great due to its coconut flavor which is lacking in wild rice stem. Nowadays, wild rice stems are imported from China and sold in supermarkets.
Coconut shoots are either cooked in ‘masak lemah’ style or in local curry. Sarawak curry is a bit different from the regular type found in the West Malaysia. It is more soupy, unlike the regular curry which has more gravy. It is closer to sayur londeh (mix vegetable curry) in Indonesia. Vegetarian curry cooked with potatoes and coconut shoot is a very popular dish in Sarawak.
Before cooking, boil the coconut shoots for 20-30 minutes. The water can be retained for cooking. This precooking process is necessary to soften the texture of the shoots.
Another popular and more common shoot is the wild bamboo shoots. The two most popular ones are the Dendrocalamus asper (Giant bamboo), a.k.a Rebung manis in Malay and another type is Gigantochloa levis(Blanco)Merr., also known as Rebung beting in Malay.
Bamboo shoots contain cyanide which contributes to its bitter taste so they have to be boiled and the water left is to be discarded. This process will remove the bitterness of the shoots.
Pickled bamboo shoots are bamboo shoots preserved in brine. They become sour after a few days. This is great for cooking soup with the pickled mustard. Bamboo shoots can be pickled in sugar solution too. The shoots must be boiled before pickled.
Wild bamboo are abundant in Sarawak jungles. Nobody cares to plant them in the villages but in the suburban area, there are cultivated bamboo trees originated from China. The lack of slightly bitter taste like the local bamboo shoots makes them less popular than the wild bamboo shoots.
Both coconut shoots and bamboo shoots are great food for people on diet. Bamboo shoots contain 1 g of fiber and 12 calories per 100 g of serving.
At present we still have a lot of bamboo trees growing wild around our villages but things may change drastically after a few decades. So enjoy our wild bamboo shoots before they disappear.
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