Top 10 Unusual Fruits from Asia

Fresh and funky fruits you might not know…

Asia is well known for cultivating some amazing, unique and sometimes terrifying fruit. Nowadays we are lucky enough to be able to buy pretty much any kind of fruit, anytime of year, anywhere – so if you see any of these beauties in your local supermarket give them a try! I have included some of the benefits of each fruit as well as the taste in the description.

1) DRAGON FRUIT

Perhaps not as unusual as it used to be, but one of my favorites. Although I’m not a huge fan of the white variety (I find it bland) the purple one is exquisite! Not only does it look like  some kind of alien prop from Doctor Who (who doesn’t love their fruit to be fuchsia pink) it’s also sweet without being too sickly. I tend to chop it in two then scoop out the flesh with a spoon. I would describe it as a more interesting kiwi (I apologize kiwi, apparently I have outgrown you). Dragon Fruit, also known as pitaya, is low in calories, contains a ton of vitamins and apparently is even good for treating hair and acne. That being said, I think I will just stick to eating it.

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Dragon Fruit – Kiwi’s cooler cousin

 

2) POMELO

From one my favorites to one of my least, unfortunately pomelo isn’t quite to my taste – though it does have an impressive appearance. It’s a ginormous,green sphere and tastes like a hybrid of orange and mild grapefruit. Alas it’s too sour for me, but if you are inclined to tart citrus fruits, this is a winner. To eat this gargantuan produce, nick the skin with a knife then peel. Inside, you will see huge segments with white membrane which in turn you peel off. Pomelo is high in vitamins and fiber, and apparently the mass of skin doesn’t have to be wasted – you can make an exotic marmalade with it!

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Pomelo being prepared in the market

3) STARFRUIT

Also known as carambola, this fruit doesn’t look like much when intact, but when sliced it lives up to its namesake. Rich in potassium and vitamin C, the entirety of it can be eaten, skin and all, so it’s pretty practical.  Simply slice it into thin(ish) pieces and you’re good to go. It can be sweet or sour, depending on the type you get, and is sometimes added to papaya salad. When it’s sweet, it almost has a floral aroma with a slight sour tang.

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Starfruit – sweet and tangy

4) JACKFRUIT

Although a little daunting to behold, this is one of my most adored fruits – not least because of its versatility. I like them old, young, as chips, in curries….pretty much any which way at any time. I first tried it in Indonesia, mistaking it for meat. Young (unripe) jackfruit is known for having a somewhat meaty texture/taste (I know fruit as a meat replacement, who would have thought it) and I would agree. There is something rich and savory about the flesh – bang it in a curry and even the most discerning carnivore will be happy. When ripened, it becomes sweet and finds it’s place into desserts. Whenever I have brought jackfruit, it’s always been prepared and I would tend to let the professionals handle it, as full grown it’s bigger than my torso. It is super rich in fiber, super adaptable and super delicious.

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Jackfruit, for when you want your fruit to be meat

 

5) PERSIMMON

Same color as a tomato. Same shape as a tomato. Related to a tomato. Not a tomato. Persimmons look like big, squat versions – though with more orange hue than red. The flesh of this fruit is comparable in texture to a less ripe mango, and has a slightly similar taste though not as rich. It’s sweet, fresh and light and is great to snack on as you can eat the skin – just make sure it’s ripe. I personally like to slice it into wedges after washing, but you can eat them like an apple or slice them in two depending on your preference.

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Persimmon, defiantly not a tomato 

6) DURIAN

No unusual fruit list would be complete without the so-called King of fruits. The infamous durian.  From the off, its peculiar, spiky shape (reminiscent of a virus under a microscope) isn’t overly appetizing, and of course the assaulting smell that it exudes is notorious – with some hotels in Asia simply banning it. My school was next to a durian stand and I never got used to it. After being cut into half with a machete for you (or you can buy it pre-packed) you can scoop out the soft flesh, which has an odd, creamy consistency – sometimes compared to soft cheese. I know, I know, I’m not selling it, however it’s an acquired taste and I know people who love it. I can’t even eat things like ice-cream flavored with it, though I have been partial to a durian chip every now and again. It’s also rich in potassium, fiber, iron and vitamin C. Though for me, that doesn’t make up for the smell.

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Not the most appetizing looking food

 

 

7) RAMBUTAN

When rambutan season hits, the sides of the streets are flooded with overflowing boxes of this bright, delicious fruit. It wouldn’t look amiss in a Jim Henson dark crystal-esque film, with it’s bright color and odd, hair-like casing (rambut means hair in Indonesian). They’re in the same family as lychees, and I find them less sticky though similar in taste. You can easily peel the thick skin to reveal the tasty white flesh with a large black seed in the center. Rambutan are also a good aid to digestion and taste great in juices.

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Rambutan, furry but fresh

8) LONGAN

Much as rambutan, longon fruit is closely related to the lychee. It however doesn’t look quite as appetizing, with a woody, sand-colored shell. Inside is a similar delicious white flesh that isn’t as sour as lychee, but is still sweet. You can usually buy a bunch of them, still on the thin branch they have grown on. There is a certain knack to popping them open that I haven’t quite mastered. I just squeeze and then peel which seems to do the job. The center of the fruit holds a shiny black seed which gives it the appearance of an eyeball, hence it’s Chinese name ‘dragon eye’.

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Bunches of longan fruit next to mangosteen

9) SUGAR-APPLE

This conical little guy is sweet and creamy (hence it’s alias – custard apple) and is perfect for desserts and to flavor ice-creams. Sugar-apples are high in energy and very tasty; though they’re so sweet I can never eat more than one. When ripe they should easily open, with the tortoise shell-like casing falling away. Inside, you will see white clove-like creamy segments with black seeds. The flesh can look a little gooey/strange but the taste is great.

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Sugar-apple to the left of me, avocado to the right

10)MANGOSTEEN

Finishing with one of the best, just pull of the green top to peel the tough purple skin away. Inside hides striking white segments, larger than garlic cloves, dripping with sweet juice. It tastes more like a berry than the majority of Asian fruits I have tasted – super sweet and juicy though still mild and not sickly. They are ideal for a sweet snack or dessert, and you can have a few due to their small size.  Just as durian is the king of fruits, mangosteen is deemed the queen, so even if you can only try it tinned I would give it a go.

 

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Mangosteen, the queen of fruits

 

Thanks for reading, and let me know I missed any of your favorite exotic fruits. Next time we are headed to try street food at the market, which didn’t disappoint.

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet” – Jean-Jacques Rousseau 

 

 

 

Myanmar Meals Basics

In which I try the fundamentals, mostly successfully

I thought it best to start with a basic overview of what a traditional Myanmar meal might entail – bearing in mind the cuisine here changes rapidly from province to province. That being said the dishes featured in this post are more on the universal side. I have attempted (I imagine rather poorly) to record how to say each one phonetically. The Burmese script is also included; though if you know that you’re probably spending your time reading the wrong blog, but thanks for the support!

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The view from the top of Mandalay Hill

After triumphantly managing to wrangle the help of one of my former students who a) speaks impeccable English and b) used to be a chef (win win) we sped through Mandalay town on his motorbike – me delicately riding side saddle, summoning my inner Victorian genteel woman. On his recommendation we were dining at an upmarket, well-known traditional Myanmar restaurant, Daung Lann Gyi (see address at  bottom of page).

I’ve visited this restaurant a number of times and apart from its impressive food, it also boasts translated menus, AC, WiFi and excellent service. Even though I’d prewarned him I wasn’t in possession of the largest appetite, it was decided we would sample the Royal Set Menu, priced at 12,000 kyat (around $9.80). And I have to say it ruled – bad pun I know.

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We were presented with a raised dais containing 7 different dishes, as well as a steaming bowl of soup, various dips and vegetables. Our rice was on a nearby table in an embellished silver container, served to us throughout the meal. Upon my friend’s instruction I tried each dish individually, putting a little on my plate eating it with rice, but he said to bang all the dishes on the plate at once would be totally acceptable too.

“The resulting dish (Sait-tha-hin) is reminiscent of an aromatic ragu, with deep, resplendent color and flavor”

The first dish, and an all-time favorite of mine, was the mutton (N.B mutton in Asia tends to indicate goat as opposed to lamb). Until living here, I hadn’t known the joys of this rich, stronger tasting meat – now I can’t get enough of it. After frying garlic, chili, ginger, onion and turmeric the meat is browned in the pan, then covered with water and diced tomatoes. The resulting dish (Sait-tha-hin, ဆိတ္သားပာင္း) is reminiscent of an aromatic ragu, with deep, resplendent color and flavor. We followed this with the chicken curry (Chet-tha-hin – hin means curry in Myanmar -ၾကက္သားပာင္း) which is made in much similar fashion, except the chicken is poached beforehand which allows it to fall apart in the sauce and stay deliciously juicy.

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The Royal Set Menu: (from above L to R) mutton curry, tofu salad, prawn, shrimps, Indian gooseberry, bean salad, chicken curry and tomato salad. Soup  centre.

We then moved onto the two salads on offer. Tomato (Kha-yan-chin-tee-tho, ခရမ္းခ်ဥ္သီးသုပ္) and tofo (Toe-who-tho,တိုပာူးသုပ္). Both are made by mixing coriander, sliced onion and cabbage, chickpea powder, chili, peanuts, peanut oil and lime by hand. The sliced tomato or tofu is then added, with crispy fried onion on top.

“the tofu is made from ground chickpeas, giving it a vibrant yellow color, smooth texture and subtle flavor”

I found the later dish especially enjoyable; the tofu is made from ground chickpeas, giving it a vibrant yellow color, smooth texture and subtle flavor – something I find un-fried tofu can lack. They both had a refreshing effect on the palate and contained a small kick of heat – though as mentioned in my last post I’m a wimp when it comes to spice, so you can request more to suit your taste.

 

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Vegetable side dish with bamboo, cucumber, chili and Ngapi sauce (shudders)

We continued our meal with fresh, fried prawns and bean salad (Pae-sayn-nat, ပဲစိမ္းနပ္ ). The later was a simple but tasty dish, made by boiling green beans in a frying pan with chicken powder, oyster sauce and turmeric.  There was also a dish of fried shrimp (Ba-la-chong-jor, ဗလာေခ်ာင္ေၾကာ္ ). For me this was a little too pungent containing a fair helping of the local fish sauce, otherwise known as Ngapi. Ngapi is a kind of fermented paste made from very small salted fish or prawn. It has a very distinctive, strong taste that I unfortunately haven’t gotten to grips with yet. It features heavily in Myanmar cooking, especially soups.

“Ngapi is a kind of fermented paste made from very small salted fish or prawn. It has a very distinctive, strong taste”

There was an additional sauce of Indian gooseberries, boiled and crushed with Ngapi – due to my strong fish avoidance, I only tried a little of this. We completed our meal with some small cups of tea and sugary palm sweets (Htan-nyat, ထန္းညက္) which no doubt rotted my teeth but were wonderful. Suffice to say, we didn’t finish it all, but the staff were happy to box it up for us to take home.

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Intensely sweet palm sugar sweets 

Next week, I’ll be heading to the market to give a low down on the local fruits available, as well as visiting a Shan (a region in Myanmar famous for its food) restaurant. Thanks for reading and if you have any questions please comment and I will happily answer/find someone who can.

“Food, in the end, in our own tradition, is something holy. It’s not about nutrients and calories. It’s about sharing. It’s about honesty. It’s about identity” – Louise Fresco

Daung Lann Gyi is located on 68 Street, between 33 & 34, Mandalay

 

Burmese Bites

Learning about Myanmar culture and cuisine, one meal at a time

I would recommend a visit to Myanmar to anyone. I first moved here last July and stayed for 6 months, and after a brief stint trying my luck in Thailand, I couldn’t have been happier to return. If Thailand is the land of smiles, then for me Myanmar is a beam of joy. Of course, there is a great deal still that need to happen to the country that finally achieved its first democratic election last year, but I am not here to discuss politics right now. I am here to discuss food.

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A Pagoda in the Monastic town of Sagain

During my last stay here I was less, how shall we say, less willing to try the local cuisine. I am not a fan of rice or spicy food (I know, I know, why did I move to Asia) and I found myself struggling to push myself out of my comfort zone when it came to dinner time. Fast forward a year and since my return I have made a conscious effort to stop eating overpriced, underwhelming Western meals and eat as much of the local food as often as possible.

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A street vendor selling Jaggery, a sweet treat made from Palm sap

And so began a learning process, still in practice. That’s not to say I enjoy all of what I eat, nor that I don’t occasionally binge on a burger to soak up the previous night’s beer (I can’t help it sometimes – I am weak and I just discovered Lotteria delivers). However I can say that I have found some really excellent local dishes that I have come to enjoy. This is mainly thanks to my school, which provides me with lunch daily, and local street food stops that have become my regular haunts.

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Looking over the Ayeyarwady river from Mingun

Bearing this in mind, I have begun this blog in order to discover a) what some of these dishes are called – preferably in both Myanmar and English b) what their ingredients and recipes are and c) to hopefully spread the word to others travelling here. Some of my local friends are providing me with some of the answers I seek, but until then I will post pictures and descriptions to the best of my ability.

Please feel free to comment with any suggestions of places to eat, dishes to try or any other information you want to know. I am localized to Mandalay, but there is a pretty varied amount of  cuisine on offer here.

The next post will detail a description of a variety of traditional Myanmar dishes myself and a good friend had at a famous local restaurant: Daung Lann Gyi. Till then, in the words of Paul Prudhomme:

“You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food”