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Menma is a lightly sweet and savory condiment of cooked bamboo shoots that are simmered in a soy sauce, water, and brown sugar. It is generally used as a topping for soup, particularly ramen, on which it is a nearly ubiquitous condiment in Japanese cooking. Menma is generally made from dried slices of fermented bamboo shoots, but some cooks make a version of it from slices of fresh or canned bamboo. It can also be called shinachiku.
Bamboo shoots are edible pieces of the young bamboo plant, which grows in a cane when it is mature. This food is eaten in many types of cuisine, including Japanese, Chinese, and Indian. When eaten alone, it has a neutral flavor that lends itself well to use in a wide variety of dishes, cooked or uncooked and sweet or savory, though most people are familiar with this ingredient from Chinese-style stir fried dishes.
The bamboo shoots used in menma are generally fermented in lactate and dried before they are packaged and sold. Preparing menma from dried fermented bamboo shoots starts with soaking them in water, or sometimes broth, until the dried shoots are soft. When broth is used to hydrate the menma, it is most frequently pork broth, but different broth can be used to match the flavor of the other ingredients in the dish.
When making menma from fresh or canned bamboo, the shoots do not need to be soaked. This means the dish can be prepared more quickly, but the flavor differs significantly from the traditional version made from dried fermented bamboo. Fresh or canned bamboo shoots are boiled in a solution of stock, soy sauce, and sesame oil before they are added to ramen as menma. Some recipes call for a hot chili to be included in the boiling solution. Once boiled, they should take on a soft texture and droop as if they were bamboo noodles.
Ramen is an Asian soup dish that is common in many countries. Inexpensive instant ramen is available in most grocery stores. Many people put toppings on their ramen, and menma is just one of many such toppings used on ramen. Other ramen toppings include nori, or roasted seaweed, kimchee, and green onion. Eggs, including quail eggs or chicken eggs, meat, like roasted pork or beef, and fish balls or cakes are also common ramen toppings.