Pako / Fiddlehead Ferns


The arrival of the monsoon rains also heralds the arrival of more pako or fiddlehead ferns in the markets. I absolutely LOVE pako and I think few people have tasted this vegetable (plant?) done right. It is such a humble and common treat in some parts of the country pako2and yet many a city dweller has never tried it or at least not enjoyed it on a regular basis. Whenever I see lots of healthy and fresh looking bunches of ferns in the markets I buy several bunches that then turn into a tiny little salad. They don’t keep for long so you should eat these the day you buy them. Just take the last few inches of the stems, blanch them for seconds in boiling water then shock them immediately in an ice bath to stop the cooking, preserve the bright green color and help keep them crisp. We like to dress it with a simple vinaigrette and it is spectacular by itself, with tomatoes, and as a side dish to grilled seafood or pork. Somewhat crisp and fresh, with hints of asparagus flavor, I think this is a great local dish. Part of me thought this was indigenous to the Philippines, but it turns out “paku” in Malay and Indonesian also refer to young ferns and there are several dozen different ferns that are edible. If you have never tried pako before, try to get some this rainy season…


46 Responses

  1. Pako! I love this paired with fried fish! My mom mixes this with chopped tomatoes and slivers of onions dressed with vinegar and a bit of salt and pepper. yummy!

  2. oh, yes, we love pako with a sweetish vinaigrette with lots of black pepper, and tomatoes, onions and salted eggs. but the another way we cook this is ginataan with small shrimps. yum!

  3. When in season,Paku salad was one of my Grandfather’s favorite side dish . His version included some diced boiled eggs and white onions mixed with the vinagrette and red tomatoes. So yummy!!Oh yes..a perfectly fried crispy pata,lechon kawali or fish would just be a divine viand with steaming hot rice!

  4. I haven’t had paku/pakis (another Indonesian name – are there any Philippine languages that have something similar to the second name?) in a LONG time.

    Apparently, one can gather bracken in the Griffith Park area in LA, and most of the people who do so are Korean-Americans, since bracken (Korean: gosari; Japanese: warabi) is considered a prime mountain vegetable to be enjoyed in the spring. However, I also read about the downside of eating too much bracken – something about one of the chemical compounds in bracken that’s not broken down during the cooking process being carcinogenic – yikes! Thank goodness this is still a seasonal vegetable.

  5. I love pako. I’m lucky enough to have a friend whose family does an excellent pako salad so I beg him for some whenever we vacation at their provincial residence. How I miss it!

  6. I like this with buro and fish. Before, I have a colleague who was able to domesticate growing of pako in his backyard so he always bring some of his harvests in the office.

  7. am learning so much from this blog… i used to see these on rainy season but never have thought they are edible!!!!!

  8. I think what makes pako so special is that it’s in season for such a short period of time. Its evanescence makes us savor it all the more. My mom introduced me to this tender fern. Pako with a simple vinegar dressing with grilled fish…yummy!

  9. Pako in ginisang monggo (in gata) paired with fried fish or tinapa! My German husband loves it like anything! I have to cook bigger portions just to make it enough for the both of us :-).

  10. My mom have these kind of pako grown back home, she got it from a friend. They grow so fast and they get so bushy in no time. I absolutely love it with tinapa, with loads of chopped tomatoes on the side.

  11. In my book, pako is THE salad to beat. Crunchy, refreshing, and oh-so-light… In coconut milk with lots of red onion, tomatoes and ginger, it’s best paired with anything grilled. Have had a few raised eyebrows when serving this to some city dwellers though, although those who did try it became instants fans, hehe…

  12. They look so vibrant! I loved pako salad from the first time I tried it, but I have never attempted it myself. Now’s my chance! Thanks for the heads up as usual MM…to market, to market! :) Where’d you buy these guys?

  13. i actually saw pako in one of the markets here in calgary 2 weeks ago and i did a doubletake, i too thought that it was indigenous to asia…apparently not!

  14. We just had pako salad from a few bunches I bought at the sunday market in the Lung center. Like you guys, I love it with a simple vinaigrette, tomatoes and kesong puti. In Laguna area, this “vegetable” is more common probably because they grow in the forests of Makiling and Banahaw.

  15. pako during the rainy season is much awaited, just like those thunder mushrooms. best with a a drizzling of light vinaigrette, chopped red eggs and slivers of white onions. really good. serve with steamed fish in banana leaves.

  16. I’ve eaten pako salad only twice, and it was quite good. I barely find any pako in the markets I go to. I wonder if you can do this salad with sayote tops? It’s a more abundant vegetable and the bite is similar to that of pako.

    While we’re on the subject of green salads, one of my favorites is lato/arosep salad tossed with white onions, tomatoes, and calamansi. It makes for a good side dish to inihaw anything. There’s usually some good-enough lato available in Farmer’s Market at around 2 PM.

  17. Have tried this in a salad with a sweet soy dressing, crunchy soy beans (wasabi flavor), nori, cherry tomatoes, onions, sprouts. I think it also had small cubes of fried white cheese …. but that might just be my imagination! The japanese restaurant that served pako salad this way closed already. Too bad!

  18. Trin, that combination sounds very interesting. Lissa, I have never tried a salad of sayote tops but I wonder if it would have the same crunch or pop that you get with the pako. Dodi, I am told they come from forested areas…which makes sense, and since we have so few forested areas left, that might explain why they aren’t that easy to find these days… rina, they sell fiddlehead ferns in many parts of North America, though I find most versions have a much larger curl of fern…but if you saw this type, yahoo! for you :), they’ll make a great salad! Joey, try Gil Carandang at the Salcedo market on Saturday. Or the FTI Market or Farmer’s in Cubao on Saturdays. Cook on the same day you buy them. Seconds in boiling water is all you need, ice bath afterwards is the key to superb vs. good salad. TOPING, I am with you, this is a superb dish. I rarely get to the gata version but now that you mention it, I have to try that soon. ctl98, you are right, the fleeting season makes it all the more attractive! shalimar, this is a must the next time you are home during the rainy season! nina, cool, he grows it in his backyard?! Ed, I too had heard of possible negative aspects of the vegetable, but a quick boil apparently negates most of the issues… Raneli, Millet, Jaja – yup, this is great with the dishes you mentioned!

  19. I’ve also tried eating the ginataang version with canned sardines. Delicious!

  20. we usually buy our pako at roadside stalls in lucban, quezon. They are usually found at coconut plantations. We simply take off the leaves, discard the stems then wash them thoroughly. Great as a salad tossed together with tomatoes, onions, red egg and some simple vinaigrette. Some versions of the salad that we’ve heard of in quezon (my hometown) include sardines! Ginataang sugpo at kuhol wouldn’t be complete without the pako.

  21. …And i thought my parents have taught me to eat EVERYTHING! I have not even been introduced to this vegetable. This will definitely, one day, find it’s way to our table. I think it is time for me to teach them something. wink..

  22. BTW, MM, use vinegar when squeezing out the gata, throw in the onions, tomatoes and ginger, season with salt and let steep for a few minutes before throwing in the pako. Yum!

  23. we make our pako salad with chopped red onions, tomatoes, a little bagoong balayan with calamansi and topped with grated itlog na pula. we also add pako to guinataang kuhol and sugpo. yum yum!

  24. we have a supply of pako all year round since my mom loves to eat & plant those in our farm. blanched fern dressed with bagoong and calamansi goes well with any fried fish. yummy! my dad also makes a salad of this veggie with salted egg & chopped soda crakers.

    MRJP, the ornamental pako has larger & longer leaves as compared to the edible one.

  25. MM, I just saw pako at Food Emporium the other day, but they’re larger than what im used to seeing in the phils… They looked like curled asparagus tips. I wonder if they can be cooked the like asparagus…? Btw, i just saw dandelion leaves at the Union Square farmers market, how do those taste and whats the best way to eat them?

  26. My Greek friend Kathy loves dandelion leaves, she steams the very young ones for a minute, shocks them in cold water, drains them and dresses them with lemon juice and olive oil, salt and pepper. A little mashed anchovy and garlic can also be added. Taste one next time you are at Union Square.

  27. Deep green and thick and fleshy curls, yes it can be steamed really quickly like asparagus, after all they are both vegetable shoots. The Thais include them with chicken in green curry and lima beans. Here in Ontario where it is a highly sought after spring treat (you can go in the wild and gather them if you are brave and an early riser), I cook them like banana heart, with sotanghon.

  28. Ginataang sugpo or alimasag with pako, spiced up with a little labuyo for a touch of heat. Served with inihaw na liempo and a large steaming bowl of white rice. What more can one ask for?

  29. Sister and Apicio, thanks for the info :) Its always nice to add healthy greens to my menu…

  30. I tried this veggie in Oroquieta City Misamis Occidental while we were doing our duty in nursing school. As a veggie lover its something new and tasty.

  31. My first encounter with pako was through a Japanese friend of mine who joined me in collecting lily of the valley. We were out in the forest in Stockholm one fine spring day. How she screamed with delight when she found the ferns growing alongside the lilies. She was more excited in discovering fiddleheads than collecting the delicate and just as wild flowers.

  32. Due to the rarity of this veggie, I had only tasted them twice on two and far in between occasions. Once as a fresh salad with vinaigrette and the other, the pako mixed with chopped tomatoes and onions and enveloped in egg like a torta but just mildly cooked. It was good for a heavy breakfast, together with fried tawilis or tinapang salinas. Yummy.

  33. Marketman,
    I forgot to thank you for writing such a wonderful post on this rare spring delicacy, which I had ignored due to lack of knowledge and inspiration on how to prepare it. I would not have ventured to pick these ferns again if I had not read your post and the interesting comments and recipes that it had generated. Your loyal readers are a bunch of inspired food enthusiasts, which I thank them for.
    Love your other non-food posts, as well!

  34. Rowi, these are definitely one of my favorite, somewhat unusual local greens… glad you were able to “re-discover” them…

  35. We found a rather intereting combination using pako, lucban longganiza (chopped up and fried ’til crisp), tomatoes and Japanese shiso dressing. Somehow the combination seemed perfect – the earthy freshness of the pako combined with the minty tartness of the shiso dressing were perfect flavor and texture counterpoints to the crunchy, fatty lonnganiza.

  36. We do our pako salad down north just like suzette does, with bagoong balayaan (which may or may not be sauteed in garlic), calamansi and cherry tomatoes. When our kamias tree is cooperating, we’ll throw in a bit of chopped slices to counter the saltiness of the bagoong. I’ve tried sayote tops salad before but its nowhere near the crunchy juiciness of pako. Add to that a steaming bowl of milagrosa rice, bagnet, and ice cold Pepsi. Sarap ng siesta, right after.

  37. zeph, that sounds fantastic! Hatari, I love the sound of the longganiza and pako, will definitely try that sometime soon. Is the Japanese dressing the soy based one of the sesame based one?

  38. Pako salad is a special and most requested dish when friends come over both in my parents’ home in the province and in ours as well. First timers instantly love this salad. We grow the fiddleheads right in our backyard. Have been asked to ‘commercially’ supply friends already. Might just do so with all the good comments on these delicious crunchy greens!

  39. MM would it be hard to grow ‘pako’? I would think that its a fern that will survive in tropical climate or hot weather.
    Where do you think I can get the plant so I can grow it myself?

    Thank you.

  40. MM – Where can I get these in Manila? I only tried this at Abe’s Farm and got hooked but have never seen it in markets around here.

  41. Because I love pako so much, my hubby integrated pako into our family mini-forest farm. Now i market pako all season all year round to some selected restaurants and friends. Our pako salad is best when freshly served and not blanched.



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