The best bamboo lunch

Reflecting on the recent trip to South Korea and Japan, there is one meal that is a particular stand-out for me. The meal featured bamboo in many guises. My hosts in Tokyo kindly took me about in Chiba one fine day, with a plan to eat at this roadside diner. One of the special bamboo ‘sets’ were ordered for each of us. A tray with dishes arrived. Then the rice, with bamboo of course, in its own hot-pot type bowl with rustic wooden lid.

bamboo meal, bamboo

On the tray were pickled bamboo, soup with bamboo shoots, a selection of other pickles, and a glass of plum juice, all made by the farmer who grew them. Then came the sticky potato. And the deer stew. That’s pickled kiwi fruit in the red dish.

bamboo meal, bamboo

This sticky potato dish is made from the wild tuber found in the mountains nearby. It hardly resembles conventional potato in any way except perhaps colour. Savoury flavourings were placed on top on the slimy goop in the bowl and we mixed them in ourselves at the table. Delicious. As was the deer stew. Probably the richest flavoured deer stew I have tried in Japan. Then came the bamboo tempura.

bamboo meal, bamboo

Normally I don’t eat wheat flour, but this was worth making an exception for. Perfect crispy tempura batter. Perfectly textured bamboo shoot awaiting inside.

bamboo meal, bambooIt was the Takean branch that we dined at (I think). The fridge was stocked with local bamboo shoots, and all manner of locally made pickles. The freezer stored blueberries, and more bamboo shoots from the recent spring season. The shelves displayed more local produce and products. The owner is, quite rightly, very proud of the fine quality food he uses to turn out the excellent dishes we were so fortunate to sample. He told us he makes everything from scratch. No English spoken here, and you won’t see an English menu. Take a Japanese speaker. You’ll probably need them to at least get the directions from the website.

bamboo meal, bamboo

The freezer on the left is a fish pond.

 

Damyang Bamboo Museum

TheBM lift doors bamboo museum at Damyang is quite a treat for anyone with more than a passing interest in the uses of bamboo. One room is dedicated to an exhibit about how bamboo grows, but the museum concentrates on displays that cover every imaginable use of bamboo, and then some. Even the lift doors have a bamboo motif.

Many of the displays, unfortunately for me, remain a mystery, as the museum provides very little interpretation in English. Given the number of other native English speakers I saw during my visit (none), this is hardly surprising.

One whole room is devoted to photos, graphics, and written information about the production and benefits of bamboo salt. But that’s all I can tell you about it really, as only Korean is used for interpretation. I’m sure it’s fascinating.

bamboo museumThere are several souvenir shops attached to the museum. Each one offers a slightly different range of bamboo products. They all smell wonderful – like freshly dried bamboo, a grassy, woody, friendly, comforting kind of scent.

The bamboo museum sits among gardens, nurseries, sculptures, and, of course, its own little bamboo forest.bamboo museum Bamboo museum Bamboo museum

I’ve got stacks more photos of displays within the museum, but inserting photos into the blog using a 7 in. tablet is testing my patience unnecessarily. I am on holiday, after all.

bamboo charcoal, bamboo museumThe bamboo museum in Damyang is short walk from the bus station and a very long walk from the bamboo forest. From Gwangju, a good base to visit Damyang, take local bus 311 from outside the Gwangju bus terminal. Where else might you see a bamboo charcoal dividing wall?

Juknokwon – the bamboo forest, Damyang

As you climb up the stone stairs at the entrance of Juk-nok-won, relax and feel the breeze blow among trees and refresh your tired body and soul. Walking in the bamboo woods, with the crisp sound of bamboo leaves and sunlight spreading over you, is an uplifting feeling. (From the official brochure).

bamboo forestBamboo swaying gently in the breeze, broad paths to stroll along, small pagodas for resting… It all sounds peaceful and idyllic. The bamboo forest at Damyang is beautiful, but peaceful it is not.

The day I visited the bamboo forest there was quite a crowd. Yes, there was a major festival in full swing beside the forest, but a bloke playing music with an amplifier (not bamboo) to promote his CDs? It was really loud. And the music was a bizarre Korean interpretation of old-style Western crooner-type songs.

bamboo forestWhen I did get far enough away from him to be comfortable, I spotted a pagoda through the bamboo and went over for a short rest. There were some old women sitting about. I thought they were resting too. No. They were exercising. To music, of course.

And, similarly to Taiwan, people like to stroll around in nature carrying, and sharing with everyone, all manner of music. No, there is not enough noise in the world – we need to make more.

bamboo forest

Where else might you find a traditional house with an electric massage chair?

There are lots of birds inside the forest. In between the family groups, the girls in high heels, the lovers, and the sharers of music, there are small pockets of peace. Within these pockets, birds can be heard. By standing still, the birds can be seen too, hopping around in the bamboo leaf litter that covers the ground, flitting from culm to culm.

It’s all too brief though.

Bamboo rice in Damyang

Wandering around Damyang for the bamboo festival there is very little to assist non-Korean speakers, probably because there are few non-Koreans. When I saw a restaurant  that provided an English translation of their small menu, I dived in.

Eating in Korea is a social thing, so as a solo traveler I was not surprised to get some strange looks, even a few sympathetic ones. But here I was at the Damyang Bamboo Festival and I was hungry. I ordered the bamboo rice set.

bamboo festival

The first arrivals. Fresh bamboo shoots to the left.

Several side dishes arrived and I started. I was feeling pleased with my choice as it all looked quite manageable. Wrong. More side dishes arrived, then the bamboo rice.

The table that seats four diners was full of dishes. Each one was small and special.

bamboo festival, bamboo rice

Bamboo rice to the left.

I tried all of them but could only finish some of them. It was just too much.

The bamboo rice had some kind of beans in with it too. I didn’t detect any special flavour to the dish because it was cooked in the bamboo, although I’m sure the locals would argue otherwise.

The Damyang Bamboo Festival, South Korea

Bamboo everything and more. The 16th Damyang Bamboo Festival is in full swing as I write. The otherwise quiet town of Damyang is noisy, chaotic, and everyone seems to enjoying themselves.

bamboo festivalThe festival is wrapped around the river on one side of the town, just beside the bamboo forest. There is everything one might expect to find at a summer festival in this part of the world: music, market stalls, parades, food, and, of course, bamboo.

bamboo festival

Bamboo baskets are strung along the bridges

Over the coming days you will see more posts here about the Bamboo Festival, the Bamboo Museum, and the famous Bamboo Forest in Damyang.

bamboo festival

Preparing for a parade