Juecai Fern Dish in Yunnan
Called juecai (蕨菜) in Chinese, fiddlehead ferns are some of the most ancient edibles on the planet. They can be found in almost every country in the northern hemisphere and come in many different shapes and colors.
Fiddleheads get their name form the curled tips of their fronds displayed while still young. Only when they are young and the tip has yet to unwind are they actually edible. The ferns must be soaked in water for two days before cooking to leach out potentially carcinogenic toxins.
Yunnan has two main varieties. The more sought after variety grows in small patches high on the hills around Kunming and only appears during the rainy season.
A more common variety of fiddlehead, located near lakes and streams, is called water fiddlehead or shui juecai (水蕨菜). These can be cooked immediately after harvesting and minority restaurants throughout Kunming serve them up in a variety of different ways.
Arguably the most popular fiddlehead dish around town is fermented bean fried fiddlehead, referred to locally as doushi chao shuijuecai (豆豉炒水蕨菜). Dai minority restaurants like Mangshi Daiwei and Yingjiang Daiweiyuan do particularly delicious fry ups.