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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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