Illustration by William Walworth Stilson / Wikimedia Commons

Seasonal fiddlehead ferns that, in the Philippines, often grow by the banks of rivers and streams. Scientific name: Athyrium esculentum.

As a fine example of the inherent challenges with identifying food in a multitude of Philippine dialects, pakô is also called tagábas (technically a long-leaved cousin of Chinese ginger, Kaempferia galanga), elétso, or colloquially, kaliskis-ahas (snake skin).

Flavour-forward as a main ingredient in regional ensaladas (salads) and ginataang isda, suso o kuhol (fish, snails or shellfish simmered in coconut cream).

A good source of calcium and excellent source of iron, vitamin B and phosphorus.

Consumed in both its raw and cooked states, pakô is enjoyed leaf-to-root.

In ensalada, its bright green, curled fronds are tossed with tomatoes, shallots, slices of itlog na pula (salted egg) and local Philippine vinegars. Gathered and cleaned whole, pakô become tender-crisp with an earthy bite in their pickled form. Blanched with a pinch of salt, its stalks are a countryside favourite eaten with steamed rice and tinapa (smoked scad).

Further reading:

• The comments from any one of Market Manila’s four posts on pakô provide a treasure trove of information on local preparations across the Philippines, thanks to MM’s readers

• “Food from the Wilderness,” a 20-page reference guide produced by the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Pakô is only one of nearly thirty entries of wildfood plants strewn across the country. As its foreword states, “The list of species presented herein is not at all exhaustive,” I hope that more research emerges on the diversity of edibles in the Philippine wild!

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