When I visited Vietnam back in 2004, we were warned not to drink the tap water. This warning extended to beverages with ice in them, as well as to fruits that may have been washed in the water. We were there for a few days before we realized that plenty of fruits we found there had outer husks or peels, and that those fruits would be safe to eat. This is when I first discovered things like longans and dragon fruit. Since then I’ve pounced on opportunities to eat usual tropical fruits when I find them here in NYC but there’s nothing quite like eating them at the source, where they’re as fresh and delicious as you can get. When my sister and I were in Singapore and Malaysia in June, we made sure to eat as much fruit as we could find. (You may recall my eating fresh durian.) In the basement of Singapore’s Chinatown Complex we found the fruit section, and picked up some fresh lychees (a first for my sister) as well as bell apples, a first for both of us. The lychees were wonderfully sweet and juicy, though the bell apples were hardly sweet at all.
In Kuala Lumpur, on busy Jalan Alor, we found fresh fruit nirvana. That’s where we ate the durian, and it’s also where we found piles of fresh mangosteens. I’ve eaten mangosteens before, imported and super-expensive. They were good, though hard to eat and more than a little messy. In Kuala Lumpur we got two mangosteens for less than 50 cents, and the woman who sold them to us popped them open using nothing more than her fingers. Beneath the rusty purple hard shell are the edible white lobes of the fruit. Mangosteens are excellent, a perfect blend of sweet, tart, and juicy. These were better than the imported ones I tried by a mile.
I’ve had a jackfruit drink before, but never the fresh thing. Jackfruit grows in huge, bumpy pods, many bigger than my head. We bought some already scooped out. The jackfruit tasted like the sweetest, juiciest cantaloupe you’ve ever tasted, if the cantaloupe was compressed into thin rubbery sheets and wrapped around large seeds. I don’t know if that sounds good to you, but it was excellent.
I’ve eaten rambutans before as well, but again, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to try them at the source. I asked the vendor how much two of them would be, and he handed them to us at no cost. The rambutan is similar to the lychee, in that you crack open the outer shell to reveal the sweet flesh inside. Although the fruit was very good, it was difficult to eat it from around the inner, crumbly pit.
Not pictured but also excellent was the longkong. I was given a sample by another vendor after inquiring about what, exactly, it was. Longkong resemble longans, though the pods are grouped a little tighter together. The fruit tastes almost exactly like grapefruit, making for a very interesting eating experience.
It’s funny to think that the majority of fruit we eat here in the US, and in NYC particularly, is imported from elsewhere. Sure we have some local apples and pears, and I know a few people with fig trees in their yards, but we don’t grow lemons, bananas, pineapples, etc. All of those are available to us in supermarkets, of course. It’s important to remember that there are other fruits out there, fruits that we may not be so familiar with. And it’s equally important to take the opportunity to eat those fruits when you get them.