Fiddleheads in Vietnamese cuisine
Fiddleheads are young fern shoots or fronds used as a vegetable, which contain various vitamins and minerals, as well as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. In Vietnam, there are two common vegetable ferns: rau choại (Stenochlaena palustris) and rau dớn (Diplazium esculentum).
Rau choại can be found in Southern Vietnam’s Mekong Delta (its young fern shoots are called đọt choại). The fern variety is Stenochlaena palustris, however locals may call some other edible ferns as rau choại, too. Those fiddleheads are harvested during the wet (rainy) season. Rau choại is considered as a clean vegetable with a fragrant and mildly sweet flavor, slightly viscous texture and is carefully prepared by home cooks to make delicious dishes such as rau kho quẹt (poached vegetable with braised dipping sauce), canh chua cá rô (sour soup with climbing perch fish), canh chua tôm (sour soup with river prawns) or it can be eaten raw or used as ingredients in salads or hot pot dishes (usually with mắm cá fish paste).
Rau dớn (Diplazium esculentum) is indigenous to some mountainous regions, especially in Vietnam’s Central Highlands and Northwest region. Like rau choại, rau dớn fiddleheads can be used to make such dishes like sautéed fiddleheads with garlic, or with shrimps, fiddlehead salad with river prawns and minced meat, and of course the common dish of poached vegetable with dipping sauce.
Fiddlehead greens in general used to be a rustic vegetable. However, fern vegetables have now become a specialty or an exotic vegetable in the city, even found in luxury restaurants’ menus. The urban restaurants’ demand for fiddleheads is particularly high.