Taiwanese Shanshu – Where the Mountain Ferns and Vegetables Grow

I come from haunts of coot and hern,
I make a sudden sally,
And sparkle out among the fern
To bicker down a valley.
– Alfred Tennyson

Of all the exotic vegetables and fruits that Taiwan offers, one of my favorite greens is a mountain green that is known here as shanshu. The rest of the world likely knows it as a common house plant, but I bet most people don’t know that you can eat it.

Fresh Shanshu

This lovely green fern is known as Asplenium nidus or the South Pacific Bird’s Nest Fern, and it is typically found in humid environments, like the rain forests of Taiwan and of eastern Australia.

The plant is native to East Tropical Africa, Eastern Asia (Japan and Taiwan), Indo-China, and the Malaysia ecozone, but it is also cultivated elsewhere in the world is an ornamental house plant. In Taiwan, the Shan-su plant is viewed as a type of mountain vegetable and it is served in local Taiwanese restaurants.

These vegetables offer a crisp texture and a lovely taste, and they are harvested from both wild and cultivated plants.  I have no idea what the health benefits are from eating this plant, but I can only imagine good things. Shanshu is pretty yummy and it makes a great side dish. I enjoy it as a stand alone dish for lunch.Bird's Nest Fern by Richard Parker on Flickr

You don’t want to eat those big outside ferns that you see in the photo to your left, though. The tender baby frond ferns growing in the center of this plant are what taste so good. They are bright green with unfurling fiddleheads that are about the size of a dime.

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I cook them fresh in a little olive oil with sauteed garlic. I add a little sesame bean paste to give the dish a little punch.

Shan-Su FernFor me, shanshu is a unique part of Taiwan, as I’ve never seen it offered anywhere else in my travels. I feel lucky that I have cheap and easy access to it. It’s one of those vegetables that cooks so easily, and tastes so great, that I know I will miss it if I ever leave Taiwan.

The only other Taiwanese vegetable I like more than shanshu is a green vegetable known as Dragon’s Whiskers, but I’ll save that for another post.

 

 

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Post Author: Carrie Kellenberger

I'm a chronically ill Canadian who has been living in Asia since 2003. I moved from China to Taiwan in 2006. I'm an experienced businesswoman and have worked in many leadership positions. My husband and I have owned our own business in Taiwan since 2012. In addition to my own work, I've been writing professionally about Asia, travel and health advocacy since 2007, providing regular content to several publishing companies and travel publications in Asia and North America. I started writing about my health journey in 2009 after being diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis. In 2014, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS, which came with other massive health issues. These diagnoses were the start of my journey as a health advocate and patient leader. Since then, My Several Worlds has been recognized worldwide as a top site for chronic illness by WEGO Health and Healthline. Twitter @globetrotteri Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/carriekellenberger/. I also have a dedicated page for My Several Worlds at https://www.instagram.com/myseveralworlds/. Each IG feed features different content.

5 thoughts on “Taiwanese Shanshu – Where the Mountain Ferns and Vegetables Grow

    Dave

    (January 20, 2015 - 11:11 am)

    Ohh, sounds awesome. I didn’t get to try that in Taiwan, but I did eat some Dragon’s Whiskers while on a trip to Alishan. I really like it too!

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (January 23, 2015 - 2:44 pm)

      Gosh, I really, really love Dragon Whiskers, but I never find them in the stores or supermarkets here. 🙁

    taipeir

    (January 22, 2015 - 10:33 pm)

    I’ve often eaten this fern in Miaoli. Interestingly Japanese also eat this fern from time to time. I love the crunchy fresh texture. Originally the fern was harvested wild (and still is) but there are also farmers that grow it organically now as well.

    One word of warning though, the fern needs to be thoroughly cooked, as it has toxins that need to be neutralised.

    Happy eating!

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (January 23, 2015 - 2:43 pm)

      Hi Taipeir,

      I didn’t know that. That is good to know! Thanks for stopping by.

    Frank

    (February 21, 2015 - 10:17 am)

    Looks like it might be tasty … when I fly into Taiwan on my next Asia trip, I’ll be sure to try it out!

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