Dhekia Xaak: The Fable Of Assam’s Fiddlehead Ferns
Image Credit: Pixabay

Quirky in shape and taste, the coiled fronds of fiddlehead greens constitute a popular side dish in the authentic Assamese thali. Locally called dhekia xaak, these ferns are a native of the Himalayan foothills. It’s a spring delight that grows abundantly in the wild as well as being harvested commercially in the states of north and northeast India. Belonging to the matteuccia genus of ferns, fiddleheads are a favoured leafy vegetable in traditional diets and are loved for the typical tang it renders to every dish it is added to. Simply sautéed or made part of a variety of curries and dry-fries, dhekia xaak is delicious in any form. 

Known by different names, these furled ferns have made their presence felt in various culinary cultures across the globe. In New Zealand’s Māori cuisine, these are called pikopiko, while North American cooking experts can speak at length about the curious story of their ‘ostrich ferns’. Cut to Asian cuisine, gulai pakis or gulai paku is a delicacy in Indonesia, which has fiddleheads as a main ingredient. In the Philippines, young fronds of pakô often go into the salad bowl. Japanese people consume fiddlehead greens as kogomi, while in Korea it is called gosari and juécài in China and Taiwan. Closer home, niyuro is both pickled and served as a side dish in Nepal. In Tripuri cuisine, these greens are called muikhonchok. In Himachal Pradesh, these greens are usually consumed as a vegetable pickle, and are known by similar sounding names like lingad, lingri and lungdu, while people in Jammu call it kasrod. Rich in potassium, iron and manganese, these fern shoots are considered a good source of minerals and electrolytes.

Starting March-April, dhekia xaak adorn the local markets across Assam, where fiddlehead ferns are sold wrapped in banana leaves and tied with a rice straw, with each bundle costing about ₹10. Here’re a few Assamese delicacies that you will find it hard to resist.  

Dhekia Xaak Bhaji

Goes perfect with steamed rice and dal on a warm summer afternoon, dhekia xaak bhaji (or stir-fried fiddlehead ferns) is easy to prepare and yummy. You can add a bit of green chillies and onions to enhance the taste, and even team it up with some tomatoes, bamboo shoots or raw mango pieces.  

Dhekia Xaak Aru Aloo

A divine combination, dhekia xaak aru aloo (fiddlehead ferns with potato) is a well-loved side dish in almost every Assamese household. All you need to make this bhaji are simple ingredients such as turmeric, ginger, garlic, pas phoron and jeera.   

Dhekia Bilahi Masor Tenga

Masor tenga or sour fish curry is a typical culinary gem that the state of Assam is often associated with. You can say that dhekia bilahi masor tenga (or fish curry cooked with fiddleheads and tomatoes) is a variant of that, but the latter definitely has a fan following like none other. Rohu fish is a popular choice for this dish, but you can go for other options too. This again is a simple recipe, for which you’ll need turmeric, mustard seeds, lime juice, salt and a few granules of sugar. 

Boror Tenga Aru Dhekia Xaak

Soul food for many, fiddleheads and lentil dumplings in sour curry (more popularly known as boror tenga aru dhekia xaak) is another popular delicacy in the northeastern state. Turmeric, fenugreek seeds, green chillies, lemon juice and rice powder are among the ingredients you need to prepare this dish.

Dhekia Xaak’or Logot Koni 

Eggs fried with fiddlehead ferns (or dhekia xaak’or logot koni) is a staple dish made with these greens. Duck eggs are a popular choice for this delicacy. Chopped chillies and onions and some salt are all you need for this dry-fry recipe that can be sorted in a jiffy.