The fruits of Southeast Asia (1/2)
One of the main reasons why Katja and I love to travel to various countries is to browse the local markets and to try the interesting foods being offered. We are currently touring through Borneo and the southern Philippine islands, and we noticed many fruits with unfamiliar shapes and colors, so without much delay we bought a few of each and organized a quick tasting.
Below you’ll find our personal notes on the taste, aroma and texture of these fruits, but trust us: such things are very difficult to put in words, we heartily suggest that you visit this part of the world and taste all these fruits yourself!
Many of you know this fruit, but unless you’ve tried one fresh from the tree, you probably don’t know how good it can taste. Choose a papaya which is yellow on the outside and very slightly soft to the touch. Fruits which are mostly green or feel hard aren’t quite ripe and those that feel mushy or spongy are probably too old.
Slice the papaya in two long halves and remove the soft round seeds. The pulp-color of different fruits varies from yellow-orange to intensely red-orange, but the color seems unrelated to the taste and sweetness. Peel off the outer skin with a knife, cut the fruit in smaller pieces and serve chilled. Now enjoy the deliciously aromatic, sweet, soft, juicy pulp.
This fruit is mostly known to westerners as thin slices used for decoration of cheese or sandwich platters, but carambola is a fruit with its own taste and texture: it’s slightly sour but also pleasantly refreshing. When it’s ripe, it’s soft and very juicy (like a grape) and tastes a bit like a plum which is not fully ripe. The skin is edible, so don’t waste time peeling it off.
Dragon Fruit (Pitaya / Pitahaya)
There are different types of this strange-looking cactus fruit: pink skin with either intense pink or almost transparent pulp (Asia) and yellow with almost transparent pulp (South America).
The fruit flesh is firm to the touch, but turns soft and creamy at the slightest pressure of your tongue. The flesh contains hundreds of tiny black seeds which add a nice slightly crunchy feeling — a bit like a kiwi, a fig or a cake with poppy seeds.
It has a sweet, delicate and mild taste and an aroma like a fine perfume or a fig. The flavour is full bodied and stays in your mouth for a while.
Cut the fruit in half, then eat the flesh and the seeds with a spoon.
Very similar to lychees, but with a “hairy” outer skin which you can tear open with the nail of your thumb. Once open you can easily remove the rest of the outer skin to reveal a very juicy pearl-white flesh. Now take the rambutan in your mouth and use your teeth to separate the flesh from the large almond-like seed in the middle. The riper the fruit is, the easier it is to achieve this. The taste, aroma and texture are very similar those of a lychee.
Peel off the thin outer layer to reveal 4–6 sections with a soft and juicy off-white pulp. The taste is similar to lychee, but with higher acidity. One or two of the larger pulp sections have a hard and very bitter seed, which you should not chew or swallow.
It looks like a large dark purple plum, however the outside layer is not edible. To open a mangosteen grab the upper and lower part of the fruit with both hands and twist firmly to reveal the 6–8 white, juicy and sweet segments. The taste is similar to a lychee, but the aroma is more intense, a bit like a bath aroma ball. Do not chew or swallow the seeds.
Snake Fruit (Salak)
This fruit is shaped like a large strawberry, but it’s brown, hard and looks as if it’s covered with scales, much like the skin of a snake. You can easily peel off the dry and very thin outer skin to reveal 3 relatively hard and (more dry than juicy) lobes, which are shaped and colored much like garlic cloves. The larger ones have relatively large, hard and shiny seeds, which you cannot eat. I guess we won’t be buying these fruits very often, but the taste is nevertheless pleasant, a bit like unroasted peanuts mixed with lemonade. The texture resembles a not quite yet ripe apple.
This fruit has a thin hard outer skin and can easily be mistaken for a round potato or a brown stone. The inside is very soft, strongly aromatic and with an avocado-like texture. The taste is similar to the best baked pumpkin garnished with caramelized sugar. There is a large shiny seed in the middle, which is very easy to remove.
Mini Lime (Calamondin)
These green to slightly yellow fruits look like tiny limes. They are fresh and aromatic, but also intensely sour, so they are not intended to be eaten directly. Instead squeeze one into a glass of water to make a very refreshing drink. Alternatively add the juice to soups or a few drops to a slice of papaya to make it even more delicious.
This fruit is oval-shaped and intensely orange. It has a shiny skin, dry flesh and a round brown seed. The flesh looks like, feels like and tastes like the yolk of a hard-boiled egg, but it is also pleasantly sweet. The flesh seems to consist mainly of starch — it has no juice at all and you feel stuffed after eating just a quarter of a cansitel.
You can easily mistake a sugar apple for a hand-granade. The outside is made up of hard segments which remain green even after the fruit is completely ripe, so select fruits which are slightly soft to the touch and can easily be split up along the segment boundaries. The inside is made up of elongated, creamy white, aromatic and sweet segments, each of which contains a shiny black seed. The juiciness, slightly grainy texture and taste are similar to a ripe pear, but the sugar apple taste is more complex and with distinct mango notes.
To eat a sugar apple: split it in two halves with your thumbs, scoop out the white segments with a spoon, take them in your mouth, separate the fruit flesh from the seeds with your tongue and teeth and spit out the seeds.
Even though coconuts have the word “nut” in their name, they are fruits, so we happily include them in this post.
There are three basic uses of coconut:
- For drinking. Select a large, green and shiny fruit and ask the seller to open it for you. Now watch with amazement how with just a few couple of precise cuts with his impressively large knife the seller chops off the bottom of the coconut (so you can place it on a level surface) and then the top so you can insert a straw and enjoy the slightly sweet, delicately aromatic and very refreshing liquid inside. Avoid fruits which have been lying in the sun because the warm liquid inside will taste more like sweat than a refreshing drink. The best coconuts for drinking produce almost no flesh, so it’s not worth opening the husk after you are finished.
- For cooking. This is the majority of all coconuts, and they are easy to recognize because they are dark brown and the outer been skin has already been peeled off. Your seller will be happy to open the coconut (again, very impressive, with just one or two hits with his large knife) and grind the flesh into fine flakes.
- For eating. This is the same variety like food cooking, but the coconuts are still green and contains some liquid in addition. Since both varieties are green on the outside, ask the seller if his coconuts are for drinking or eating. Then ask them top open the fruit for you and enjoy the delicately crunchy flesh inside.
This is the first article in a mini-series about fruits: