Pako: The edible fern

Pako: The edible fern

Scientific Name: Athyrium Esculentum

Fiddlehead fern, locally called pako in the Philippines, is a vegetable fern. It is often listed among the several kinds of edible ferns mostly found in India, North America, China, Japan, Hawaii and Indonesia. Fiddlehead or furled fronds of young leaves are collected as vegetables and cultivated in a few countries. These are commonly sold in bunch at local markets just like any ordinary vegetables for a fairly cheap price.

The Philippines have an abundance of pako especially during the rainy season. These are usually found growing on banks of swift-running streams, rivers, freshwater swamps or in the wild. It is important to be familiar with the kind of ferns when harvesting since not all are safe to eat, some are poisonous.

Tough stalks are separated from the young, bright green, curled, fronds. These can be eaten cooked or raw. However, it is recommended that pako should be fully cooked or at least soaked for a few seconds in boiling water before eating. Afterwards, throw away the water used for simmering since pako may contain mild amount of toxin.

According to studies, young fronds are fine source of calcium, phosphorous, iron, and vitamin B. These are ideally mixed in salads, cooked for stews and some are pickled too. Among the deliciously prepared dishes with pako is the much-loved ensalada. This side dish is a mixture of sliced tomato and shallots, salted egg or locally called itlog na pula, with squeezed calamansi juice, fish sauce and vinegar. For some, they prefer bagoong (fermented fish or shrimp with salt) over salted egg. Pako is also a good ingredient for ginataan, a coconut milk-based stew with sautéed pork chunks and chili. Others simply love putting in the blanched fern together with smoked fish or tinapa.

Aside from pako, there are more interestingly delicious food to try in the Philippines. Whether in Luzon, Visayas or Mindanao, the Filipino cuisine is known to have diverse variations of a particular dish, which are all worth the try! From exotic meals to regional dishes, go on a food adventure and discover the many best kept culinary secrets of the Filipino cuisine. (Sources: http://foodipino.com/2012/09/24/5-healthy-benefits-from-eating-fern-paco/; http://www.stuartxchange.com/Pako.html; http://erdb.denr.gov.ph/publications/denr/denr_v12.pdf; http://www.archive.org/stream/emergencyfoodpla00merr/emergencyfoodpla00merr_djvu.txt; http://www.cooksinfo.com/fiddleheads)

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