25 Feb2009


I have always been intrigued with tales of royalty or paranoid leaders throughout history who employed “tasters” to ensure that their food wasn’t poisoned. Then after a few minutes, if the taster didn’t fall to the floor, clutching his/her stomach or throat, writhing in pain, the royal feast could continue. I suppose it would be inhumane or is it “uncanine-like” to employ our chocolate labrador as my personal taster. I figure she just sits around all day, waiting for skwutches (tummy and body rubs and tickles). I bet you didn’t you know that some dogs have an uneven number of nipples and not all dogs have the same number? That is your canine trivia of the day. While our lab is incredibly lovable and cute, she really hasn’t figured how to earn her keep, and believe me, her food and medical bills are somewhat outrageous… So somehow this brings me to the topic of pako, or young ferns. They aren’t purely fiddlehead ferns as a great volume of a typical pinoy pako salad are actually already unfurled fern shoots, not just the tight “fiddlehead” looking tips. I LOVE PAKO. And was glad to see them on Claude Tayag’s menu for Anthony Bourdain. I was also thrilled to see them in a recently published Filipino cookbook. But I was personally surprised that quite a few folks eat them RAW, as opposed to blanched.


There are several previous posts on pako here, here and here. And on one of them, a recent comment suggested eating them totally fresh, as one might do with salad lettuce. I wrote this response to that comment, and am re-quoting it here, as I am a bit wary (possibly unnecessarily so) of mild toxins in several types of ferns… at least to be on the safe side, folks who prepare pako should be aware of more than the usual risks associated with vegetables in general. I may be wrong on this, but if I recall correctly paku or ferns in Indonesia or Malaysia, from where our term pako is derived from, was almost always cooked rather than served fresh. My answer to the recent comment was this:

“…some ferns have a mild poisonous compound, and elsewhere in the world, blanching is often recommended. For fiddlehead ferns (there are many varieties across the globe, our closest relations being the ones in Indonesia, probably), the substance to watch out for is shikimic acid, which is a mild poison. Some fairly reliable sources (Mansfield Encyclopedia) write that shikimic acid can be a cause of stomach cancer, and site varieties of ferns specifically from East Asia, including Pterdium aquilinum. Although they list the more common edible ferns in the Philippines as Athyrium esculentum. And if you go to this site, you will see they list that latter Filipino variety under poisonous plants. I wonder if the poison, albeit a different one, is similar to calcium oxalate found in uncooked gabi or taro leaves… which if eaten uncooked, can cause severe throat constriction in some people. So I would be concerned about suggesting that the ferns be eaten raw without further study (or information)… I do love them cooked, however.”


My favorite way to enjoy pako is in a simple salad. I boil up some water in a large pot. I ready a large bowl with water and lots of ice, or an ice bath. I plunge the pako (I figure on 2-3 bunches per person worth of tips) into the boiling water and swich it around for just 15 or 20 seconds, then I take the pako out and shock it in the ice bath to stop the cooking, and retain the beautiful green color. Then I drain it well and chill it, or put it in a salad spinner if you want to remove the excess liquid. I dress this with a pinoy vinaigrette of some vinegar, salt, a touch of sugar and some pepper. I like the touch of sugar as I find it enhances the asparagus or earthy flavors of the greens. You can add chopped tomatoes for some color. Or some pugo eggs as Claude did for a bit of protein and color and texture. Serve cold. Delicious, but SUPER delicious. I am not a botanist or a toxicologist so i don’t know what the definitive answer to the fresh or raw vs. blanched question… but as long as you are aware of the risks, I suppose you can eat it any way you like.



  1. dragon says:

    Did you hear how astonished AB was when he found out at Claude’s dinner where the pako was taken from (and that it costs US$22 (per pound?)…

    Feb 25, 2009 | 12:09 pm


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  3. Marketman says:

    dragon, fiddlehead ferns in the U.S. are a chi-chi ingredient. So having it here was a surprise for him. It is also quite common in Indonesia and Malaysia, but our version looks different from fiddleheads from temperate regions. Theirs are often the size of a large watch dial, as opposed to our own tiny versions… but ours are delicious nonetheless…

    Feb 25, 2009 | 12:13 pm

  4. Maria Clara says:

    Like blanched pako salad with fried vegetable lumpia made out of coconut ubod or bean sprouts dressed in native palm or coconut vinegar that doubles as dipping sauce for the fried lumpia. Blanched pako is also a good filler in fresh lumpia.

    Feb 25, 2009 | 12:14 pm

  5. jay calabig says:

    yes you can buy fiddle head ferns here in the US you can find them at Whole Foods at a whopping $23.00 a lb they are very rare. Do I buy them no I would rather wait until i go on vacation and eat them back in the Philippines :) And I should agree with MM ours is marginally smaller and better tasting because some of the ferns that they get here are a tad bit bitter

    Feb 25, 2009 | 12:25 pm

  6. Elmo says:

    Hi MM,

    We also have pako regularly, we saute it in garlic with shredded tinapa (smoked fish) as the sahog.It’s very good.

    Out of topic: FYI, Umalag farms has just opened its new deli and meatshop at 2292 Chino Roces, Makati and this shop will carry its Mt. Kita Wagyu brand, they supposedly have a complete wagyu beef product line. Contact no’s. 401-6194 and 887-5848

    Feb 25, 2009 | 12:44 pm

  7. Jaja says:

    I love Pako salad! Especially when paired with either fried fish or lechon kawali. My mom blanches it too then adds chopped tomatoes, onions, a bit of slivered ginger with a dressing of vinegar, salt, sugar and pepper. yummy!

    Feb 25, 2009 | 12:49 pm

  8. risa says:

    Chop up some salted egg, and add it to the salad. My mom does this salad well.

    Feb 25, 2009 | 1:04 pm

  9. betty q. says:

    MM, have you tried blanching it in water with a pinch of salt and baking soda?…very bright green retained!

    For supper tonight, I made shredded LETTUCE STEM salad dressed with Thai Lime dressing minus the chilies much like your Thai Papaya salad…I was thinking this dressing would really go well with your Fiddlehead Salad.

    Feb 25, 2009 | 1:09 pm

  10. chichay says:

    I’ve been eating the raw pako salad and prepare it just like we prepare our lettuce salad. I haven’t tried it blanched as i thought it might lose its crispiness, however, since it is available on the market every weekend, i’ll try to blanch it this time…..

    Feb 25, 2009 | 1:36 pm

  11. Lex says:

    I just ate it recently in Pampanga raw with shrimps, tomatoes, cucumber, onion and vinegar and calamansi vinaigrette. It is heavenly. There is no hint of bitterness but just a refreshing taste together with the dressing.

    Feb 25, 2009 | 2:54 pm

  12. Maria says:

    Hi Market Manila! I’ve been lurking in your site for a while now and I have to say, I just love your content! I especially appreciate the gardening posts because I’ve just recently become a plant enthusiast.

    Feb 25, 2009 | 3:08 pm

  13. tipat says:

    Geez, I never thought Pako had to be blanched. We’ve always eaten it raw. I guess it’s about time we tried that as well.

    Feb 25, 2009 | 3:31 pm

  14. ariel says:

    Looks so tasty and healthy. Good for dinner with a soup. Wish we can get it here, too expensive in Whole Foods.

    Feb 25, 2009 | 3:51 pm

  15. Blaise says:

    I was able to atste this while I was in Batanes, and it instantly became my favorite. I love that pako salad :)

    Feb 25, 2009 | 4:17 pm

  16. bijin says:

    what am I missing? can’t believe I’ve never had pako before!

    Feb 25, 2009 | 4:22 pm

  17. Sam says:

    MM, I love pako with scrambled eggs and sauteed garlic and green chilis on a stormy afternoon. That’s my fondest memory of those yummy ferns, going to the coconut grove or streams after a week of heavy rain, scrounging for the fiddleheads and bringing them home to Momma!!!Yum!

    Feb 25, 2009 | 5:04 pm

  18. gansilagan says:

    Ginataang alimasag or alimango isn’t the same without pako! Doesn’t have the bitter taste of malunggay leaves which my kids don’t like.

    Feb 25, 2009 | 5:29 pm

  19. Mimi says:

    same as mm…quick blanch in well saltd water, shocked in ice bath and drained. i remember buying them near the pagsanjan area near the riles ng tren for only Php 10. per big bundle a couple of years ago. don’t know if they still sell there.

    i like them the way they’re served at the cafe 83 gallery, on the main road in pagsanjan, with kesong puti and garlic vinaigrette, also don’t know if they are still open.

    Feb 25, 2009 | 5:39 pm

  20. 1221 says:

    I love pako!

    My mom also does it omelette style- pako, onions and tomatoes wrapped in egg..yummy!

    Feb 25, 2009 | 7:38 pm

  21. moni says:

    In Leyte, we eat a lot of pako salad (blanched and mixed with chopped tomatoes, onions, ginger, vinegar and salt) but for variation,I stir fry pako with lots of garlic, chili powder and oyster sauce. It’s another version of the Thai fried morning glory. It is so good. Try it.

    Feb 25, 2009 | 7:55 pm

  22. kulasa says:

    Love Pako too. $22? Super chi-chi talaga. When I go visit my sister in Laguna, I buy it for 10 pesos per bundle. If you buy more you can haggle 5 bundles for 30 pesos. Sana hindi mapanood ni manong yung NR, baka magmahal bigla ang pako. We do variations of pako salad. We use patis, bagoong alamang, bagoong balayan, suka – as long as bagay sa ulam.

    Feb 25, 2009 | 8:52 pm

  23. toping says:

    How come nobody’s mentioned pako with fresh (uncooked) coconut cream? ;-)

    Feb 25, 2009 | 9:59 pm

  24. millet says:

    we always blanch it. salad, with salted eggs, onions and tomatoes, either the local sweet-sour dressing or bagoong balayan and dayap or biasong (very good!). moni’s recipe sounds nice – will try that this weekend, moni. thanks! will also try the omelet version.

    Feb 25, 2009 | 10:01 pm

  25. rudy says:

    in brunei, its called pakis, instead of pako, and is mostly sauteed with shrimp paste (belacan). just went on an jungle tour the other day, and part of it involved foraging for the ferns among all dense foliage, which were then cooked for our lunch!

    Feb 25, 2009 | 11:21 pm

  26. sister says:

    You can find it at Union Square, NYC early in the spring- late April or early May, about an inch long. They are delicious.

    Feb 26, 2009 | 12:42 am

  27. Joseph says:

    Hi MM! Have not tasted pako/paku salad in ages. But as sister says..i’ll look for them at Union Square this spring. Though i’ll keep an eye on them at farm markets here in the Poughkeepsie area. As an aside… have you ever tried the young leaves of the cashew tree? With tomatoes,onions and bagoong/vinaigrette these young leaves will be good as any side salad. I prefer it with fried daing na bangus though. Keep me posted if you can find them still. Got to EB with you someday soon.

    Kudos to you and your crew enjoyed tremendously reading all of your entries about AB and his NR! thanks.

    Feb 26, 2009 | 2:32 am

  28. edel says:

    we love pako at home and everytime someone from the province arrive, this is the usual ‘pasalubong.’ aside from salad, we love ginataang suso with pako. my aunt can also cook adobong pako although i can’t seem to duplicate it. pako is rich in iron according to my aunts

    Feb 26, 2009 | 2:41 am

  29. Gabriella says:

    I too love pako. My mom use blanched fiddle heads then she lets it cool. She adds suha (not grapefruit) but the real asian pomelo. Then she adds lots of fried garlic – for some reason garlic makes everything taste better :) with a little bit of chopped bird chili then she tosses it with light vinegarette. Hmmmm maybe slivers of green mango will also work?

    By the way I love your blog Market Man… thank you for having this food blog.

    Feb 26, 2009 | 2:57 am

  30. tnm says:

    I’ve only tried it once at Abe restaurant and really liked it. I love you dog more…so cute. Kiss, kiss!

    Feb 26, 2009 | 3:08 am

  31. nina says:

    I’ve always had it raw. We usually eat it with buro and grilled fish. Never thought it has to be blanched!

    Feb 26, 2009 | 3:09 am

  32. kim says:

    never tried eating pako fresh … we’ve always had it as an omelette ! and it was just delicious ! one of my faves when i was a kid :)

    Feb 26, 2009 | 3:11 am

  33. marc medina says:

    meron isa pang variety niyan sa pampanga. they call it “tucud banua,” meaning “pointing to the sky” or something like that. it’s like pako pero medyo purple-ish yung stem at dahon. sa mt. arayat lang meron. and it only appears in the early rainy season.

    wala lang. just sharing.

    Feb 26, 2009 | 7:11 am

  34. Marketman says:

    marc, do you eat it raw or blanched?

    Feb 26, 2009 | 7:23 am

  35. marc medina says:

    both. you can even sautee with kamatis etc. pwede ring buro.

    Feb 26, 2009 | 7:33 am

  36. marc medina says:

    actually, tradition has it that it only grows in areas hit by the first lightning of the early rains….kwentong kutsero ng mga taga-mount arayat.

    Feb 26, 2009 | 7:37 am

  37. TETH says:

    Pako, being a true bicolana, ginataang pako plus fried fish!

    Feb 26, 2009 | 9:18 am

  38. bagito says:

    I’ve never eaten pako and yet I grew up in Pampanga. (tsk tsk) When we go home, this is certainly one thing I’m gonna try.

    I love your doggie’s expression as she’s eyeing the pako! Pls give her more “skwutches” from this fellow pooch lover.

    Feb 26, 2009 | 12:24 pm

  39. T19 says:

    Love how they make the pako salad in Kusina Salud. Can’t wait for my next Viaje del Sol!

    Feb 26, 2009 | 2:21 pm

  40. kulasa says:

    Naku edel, ginaatan suso with pako is soooo good! We usually blanch the pako separately then put them in the dish and let them steam a little before serving.

    Feb 26, 2009 | 2:36 pm

  41. moni says:

    I’m now in Ho Chi Minh City and so far I haven’t seen pako sold in Ben Thanh Market. I haven’t seen it in their restaurant menus either. perhaps, it is just found in Indonesian and Philippine food.

    MM, you need anything from the markets here? I’ll be glad to get you anything unique from here. After all, we ate a lot in your lechon EB in November. I’m just an email away.

    Feb 26, 2009 | 4:27 pm

  42. Lava Bien says:


    Ginataang Suso with Pako (or Kuhol) with lots of siling Labuyo.

    If you ever go to Lucban, right by the border of Tayabas and Lucban Quezon, try ordering this at the Kamayan sa Palaisdaan.
    I order this everytime we pass by there from our Liliw tsinelas shopping. Heavenly delicious – both the fern and the shopping hehehehe. ( I also enjoy foie gras, uni tama (sea urchin with raw quail egg yolk) shashimi from real Japanese sushi chef, filet mignon, very rare Prime Rib and so on and so forth hehehehehe and did I say Ginataang Pako?)

    Feb 26, 2009 | 5:21 pm

  43. Tings says:

    Wow I didn’t know that you’re supposed to blanch it. I always eat raw. Mom always mix it with a little vinegar, salt, pepper and sugar then topping it with tomato based sardines.

    I’m from Lucban, Lava Bien :-)

    Feb 26, 2009 | 6:56 pm

  44. Tings says:

    Oops, typo. * I always eat it raw*

    Feb 26, 2009 | 6:57 pm

  45. rva says:

    in most ilocos provinces, pako is eaten raw. in our place in nueva vizcaya, we prefer it raw with bugguong and calamansi juices. see http://pinakbetrepublic.blogspot.com/ particularly http://pinakbetrepublic.blogspot.com/2008/10/fresh-pako-salad.html about pako eaten raw. thanks!

    Feb 27, 2009 | 3:58 pm

  46. corrine says:

    hmm…I’ve never tried pako. After all the discussions, I am going to have pako salad tomorrow and see what the fuss is all about.

    Feb 27, 2009 | 9:17 pm

  47. anna.banana says:

    I’ve always thought you eat pako raw like lettuce! Haha. I love pako, I never knew they could be really expensive as they are so cheap and ever available in Pinas(at least in Davao)! That and some inihaw na tuna…Yummy!

    Mar 1, 2009 | 7:58 am

  48. rodle says:

    Pako salad is one of my favorite starter and side dish for fried fish. It is good with tomatoes, salted eggs and white onions tossed in viagrette. My daughter loves it just blancing it and dipped in soy-calamansi, I prefer bagoong-calamansi mix. In our province in Laguna, we gathered in fresh and make it a filler of our omelet for breakfast and for lunch try our ginataan pako (Pako in coconut milk) serve either plain or with snail.

    Mar 1, 2009 | 7:49 pm

  49. kongwi says:

    if you happen to be in pampanga (san fernando or angeles), pako salad is readily available at cely’s (lazatin ave, CSF and nepo mart, AC)… their dressing is really good… pair it with their lechon kawali…

    Mar 2, 2009 | 2:49 am

  50. connie says:

    I’ve never had pako raw, I must admit I’ve had it prepared many different ways, blanched, cooked with coco milk and sauted, but never raw. I guess my family was never into the “raw movement” *laughs*
    My mom grew them, and if we want them, we just get them, my only beef when I was growing, there was never enough young ones because we harvest them so often. :)
    And know I haven’t have them in ages. :(

    Mar 3, 2009 | 11:12 am

  51. zerho says:

    At our house we usually blanch the paco’s but it usually loses color. And thanks by the way for the trivia about dog nipples… I thought my dog was a abnormal or something.

    Mar 3, 2009 | 11:41 am

  52. chris says:

    pako is a plenty along the cityhall road near the riles in calamba. they used to sell it at 10.00 per bundle of around 3″.

    Mar 6, 2009 | 8:16 pm

  53. millet says:

    the pako in oyster sauce was good! i added some previously fried tofu cubes,and the tofu absorbed the flavor of the garlicky sauce. sarap and healthy!

    Mar 11, 2009 | 12:48 pm

  54. Gener says:

    If in case that you lost in the jungles in the philippines and you got hungry, look for pako on the shaded areas of the forest or the riverbanks or streams, they are always abundant and can be eaten raw but watchful as not all pako are edible, check the familiar pako you normally eats, they are always triving in any jungles in the far east,easiest form of survival technique…

    Mar 23, 2009 | 3:54 pm

  55. joyce says:

    pako salad reminds me of fiestas and hanging out at my lola’s house. they usually serve it raw with slices of salted egg, tomatoes and a vinegar dressing with sugar. will try it blanched next time.

    Jul 17, 2009 | 7:23 pm


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