Several years ago, while on a trip to Subic Bay, a local Aetan man showed us how they cooked rice while foraging in the forest. They take a section of a large fresh bamboo pole, cut into it, and add rice and water and cook it over a wood or charcoal fire until done. The concept fascinated me at the time, so simple, so clever, so organic, so bio-degradable, so renewable, so self-contained, so brilliant. It’s how I imagine islanders boiling or steaming before the advent of cheap pottery, and much later, the home department of SM Department Stores with their selection of aluminum or stainless steel pots and pans… I filed that experience in the back of my mind, and was reminded of it during recent conversations with a foreign chef who had mentioned trying a version of this at the restaurant in the Serendra Complex of Fort Bonifacio. So I decided to give it a go.
First off, the bamboo pole. I wanted a really thick, green and fresh pole. We couldn’t find one to buy anywhere convenient in Metro Cebu, so we sacrificed a healthy pole from our own backyard for the experiments. I didn’t realize that at the upper end, where the pole is younger and narrower, the nodes or joints have not yet sealed within, so you can have several sections with water and other creatures that might have worked their way in somehow. So we sawed off the top 3 sections until we found a solid “canister” that was closed on both ends.
We used a small saw to cut neatly through the bamboo. A machete or bolo would have been more authentic, but I probably would have split open the bamboo so better safe than sorry… Thank goodness “Isoy” our capable crew member from Toledo, was handy with a saw and a bolo!
Notice how the bamboo is now “solid” or “closed” at the joint. We used a large knife/bolo to cut into one side of the bamboo pole.
We also tried to cook rice in a pole section that was open at one end, using folded up banana leaves to act as a plug or cover.
Just add dry rice and water close the cover and tie shut with some abaca twine.
For the other version banana leaves to “seal” the top and you cook this upright.
The first canister of rice we cooked on the edge of an existing charcoal fire that was cooking up a large lechon. Some of the drippings fell onto the bamboo container… and that gave me an idea for the next iteration of the experiment.
After about 40 minutes, our first experiment yielded BRILLIANT rice. Just a touch fragrant from cooking in the bamboo, but clean and fresh tasting. Amazing.
As a cooking and serving vessel, it was wonderful. no washing when finished eating, will naturally biodegrade, etc.
We were so happy with the results of the version cooked lying down (the vertical version wasn’t as good, and I think that method is best for soups and stews) I immediately cooked up half a kilo of lechon sisig with onions, garlic, ginger, chilies, capsicum and soy sauce and add that to the raw rice and water, hoping it would naturally distribute itself over the top of the rice…
We cooked this for closer to 1 hour, and started to worry when the bamboo started to burn a bit.
But the results were AMAZING! Say an 7.5 or 8.0 out of 10.0. Not bad for a first attempt. And totally cooked in the bamboo. Some restaurants seem to cook the rice outside the bamboo container and then just stuff it into the bamboo as a sort of fancy serving vessel. The problem with this version of ours is that it lacked a little flavor, the rice absorbed so much of it… The next time, I will make the “toppings” saltier and more flavorful. But just look at it, pretty appetizing, no?
We wiped out everything we cooked. A little sprinkle of kikkoman made a big difference. Good thing this was just a practice session. Tomorrow we do it again to celebrate three birthdays in our office in Cebu. Will try some other variations to see what else we can do with the bamboo rice. YUM.