Steamed Pork with Royal Fern


Shangluo City of Shaanxi Province in northwestern China, nestled between its namesakes Shanshan Mountain and Luoshui River, is one of the cradles of Chinese civilization, inhabited by early humans as early as the Paleolithic age over one million years ago. The area’s rolling mountains produce a fern-like plant, shangzhi (Osmuna regalis), which is used in various dishes by local residents. In the springtime the plant emerges suddenly from the sleeping earth, and when the purplish red sprout grows to about 20 cm, with tender leaves that curl like chicken claws, locals harvest them, dry them in the sun either as they are or after blanching them, and preserve them for cooking.



Four hermits are given credit for the plant having entered local diet. The lived at the turn of the Qin and Han dynasties in the second century BC, during which time the notorious Qin emperor, Qinshihuang, gave the order to burn books and bury hundreds of scholars alive. To escape persecution, four pundits named Zhou, Wu, Cui and Tang fled to the mountains of Shangluo. They lived there until Liu Bang, founder of the following Han Dynasty (206 BC - AD 220), sent them repeated invitations to join his bureaucracy. They refused, but to help crown prince Liu Ji, they served as Liu Ji’s political advisers. As a result, the emperor dared not depose Liu Ji and pass on power to another son. After Liu Ji ascended the throne, all four returned to the mountains and resumed their former reclusive lives.

Though from time to time food would run short, the four hermits remained in good shape throughout the harsh years in the mountains and all lived long lives. During their days in the wilderness, they discovered a plant they later named shangzhi that was delicious and inspired them to write about it in a poem. Many attributed their health and longevity to this plant, and it soon found its way onto the table of local families.


Braise a piece of streaky pork, slice and stack on a salver. Immerse dried royal fern in hot water, clean and shred the upper seven to 10 cms of the plant. Place royal fern on top of the meat, sprinkle with spices and minced shallot and ginger. Steam for half an hour over a high flame. Enjoy the succulent pork and royal fern in a combination that is believed to stimulate digestion and nourish the inner organs.