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Dec 3, 2007 08:34 AM

What's "ferny vegetable" and where do I get it?

Last week, I had the pleasure of eating China Star's "shredded pork with ferny vegetable". It's a fabulous dish, and much of the attraction is the flavor of the "ferny vegetable". I'd love to experiment a bit with this ingredient at home, but there's one problem - I have no idea what it is! I've looked through all my references on translation of Chinese ingredients, and I can find no clues. I don't recall seeing this item in any of the local Asian supermarkets - though I admit that I haven't looked since tasting and seeing the ingredient.

Anybody have any clues as to what other names one might find "ferny vegetable" sold under, or any places locally that you know have it?


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  1. That was my first ever dish at CS. I liked it, but when I had it at least it was all ferny vegetable, and it got old about 1/3 of the way through the dish.

    I can't really help you, but I do remember them repeatedly imploring "You have no English word for this" before I ordered, which of course made me order it with more eagerness.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Dennis S

      I agree - on its own, the taste probably would wear out its welcome in large quantities, but mingled with the texture and flavor of the shredded pork, and the few chilis added in, plus whatever sauce ingredients were adeded in it made for a really delightful dish of contrasting textures and flavors. Nice balance and complexity. Looks weird, though - the "ferny vegetable" stalks were almost black (possibly from color change in cooking and from picking up color from soy sauce or some such), and looked a bit like two inch long chunks of plastic coffee stirrers.

      I know we all miss Chef Chang (or Zhang - I've seen both spellings), but somebody at China Star still has some skill in the kitchen. I wish there was a place like that up here in the Baltimore area. We're currently rather bereft of good "Chinese Chinese" as opposed to "Americanized" versions. The one exception is Szechaun House in Towson (or is that Lutherville or Timonium?), but even they don't compare to the menu of China Star for dishes that are in the "unusual but good" category.

      1. re: Warthog

        Sounds like they may have altered the dish from when I had it - sounds like for the better. Thanks for the report.

        Wish I could help you with a Balm'er rec.

    2. Fennel is a very "ferny" vegetable with lots of fronds on the ends. Did the dish taste of anise?
      Other than that I can think of dill...

      1. I haven't had the dish, but is this it?
        My only other thought is that they could be fiddleheads, which I've had before in Korean food.

        1. According to James G, our China expert, ferny vegetagle is just that, the "uncurled baby fronds of just-emerging ferns."

          3 Replies
          1. re: Steve

            If that's the description, than fiddlehead ferns is definitely the ingredient that you should be looking for. I think I've seen them canned and frozen, but I can't remember where. And I'm not sure where you find them fresh.

            1. re: Jason1

              Removed ... didn't realize this was such an old thread.

            2. re: Steve

              At the risk of being put down by Tim Carman, I still fondly use Peter Zhang as a milestone for Szechuan food:

              On the plus side, thanks to Crackers, there's a photo of this dish from our Summer of 2005 TemptAsian Tuesdays:

              The comparison to the appearance of plastic coffee stirrers is apt - I'd described them as black twigs or straw. I wonder what the ferny veg look like raw.

              China Star has had ups and downs at over time, but their cooking has been very good. I think the owners have hired strong kitchen staff and tried to keep the quality consistent. It hurts to see other tables ordering Chinese-American food at a good Chinese-Chinese restaurant and missing out on some really good stuff. [This happens a lot during lunch at Joe's Noodle House too] An added plus for China Star is the Cinema Arts movie house in the same shopping center. It's a non-chain-like theatre for good foreign and indie films.


            3. Warthog, check these two links, i think what you are looking for is 'Paku'. My granny prepares this either in belachan or a spicy soy sauce mix. It's grown easily in Borneo (she has it in the garden) and abundantly. I love it, one of my favourite vegie dishes. I grew up knowing it as fern, since it looks like your typical 'western' garden fern. i've seen it @ Lotte Plaza in the green grocery section, but it's been a while since I've been over there.


              5 Replies
              1. re: aussiewonder

                Paku gets my vote, based on the pictures in the links provided. the times I've seen fiddle-head ferns, it's looked a little different. Whatever it is, it's good.

                1. re: Warthog

                  Actually, I'm not sure it's either one. When my dad has cooked with it (and he gave me the same response - "There's no English for it."), it started out flat and a very dark green - almost seaweed like. It then rolls up into that chewy/crunchy stick when cooked. I've always wondered what it was.

                    1. re: FoodieGrrl

                      Fiddleheads start rolled and stay rolled up. The color is a little lighter green than pencil-thin asparagus.

                      1. re: Indy 67

                        Well, it's definitely not fiddleheads then. These are definitely not green.