Bamboo has long been celebrated in Japan, where it is one of the three auspicious plants referrred to as Sho chiku bai (sho = pine, chiku = bamboo, bai = plum). This quick-growing grass is used for building, baskets and food. The young and tender shoots of several varieties of bamboo are edible, and harvested in the spring. Six to 18″ long, with a diameter of 3″-5”, the shoots appear above the ground in rounded cones, which are covered in layers of speckled brown skin that feels a lot like paper. Underneath, the flesh is creamy white and almost hollow in the center. Fresh shoots are hard to find in the west, but boiled and vacuum-packed shoots are available year round. Stay away from the canned variety, which can be briny. I like to slice bamboo shoots thinly and cook them with rice, or simmer thick rounds in lightly flavored dashi.