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.
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.
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.
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.
For 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.