A friend in college, who had grown up in the Phillippines, had one thing to say to me before I moved to Asia: “You know nothing about mangoes.” She went on to tell me how the one, maybe two, easily found varieties we get in the US are sub-par. Needless to say, within about a week of being in Indonesia, I realized she was completely and totally right. Not only are there hundreds of varities of mangoes, they can taste like completely different fruits. Really I could write a Dr. Seuss rhyme here…
So in my effort to get to 20 tropical fruit posts, here’s my ode to a fruit most people know, but don’t really know. When mango season arrives across Asia, there’s an excitment among the vendors. And the fruit isn’t necessarily cheap. I would sometimes pay almost $2USD for a large, perfect mango in Jakarta. Often street vendores give you a spicy salt that you can dip the fruit into.
It seems that India wins on the mango craze. The Alphonso variety is considered the creme de la creme — here’s a NYTimes story on mangoes in India. And here is a CNNGo piece about the same area where the very expensive prized variety comes from. I have yet to try it.
Meet the largest fruit in the whole wide world: jackfruit, known in Indonesia as nangka. I should clarify and say it is the largest fruit that comes from a tree because there is some Internet debate about varieties of pumpkin constituting the world’s biggest fruit. The biggest jackfruits on record weigh over 80 pounds.
Jackfruit grows all over South and Southeast Asia, so the photos in this blog come from Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Singapore. Just note the comparison here next to some pineapple:
And here’s the jackfruit in all its glory growing on trees:
One of the best parts of the trip to Tana Toraja was all of the terong belanda juice (and the jus campur, mix juice with terong belanda and passion fruit). Terong belanda translates from Indonesian as Dutch eggplant, in English this fruit is commonly known as tamarillo.
I asked Pak Agust early on about local fruits and he made sure to find me a terong belanda during our first day hiking together. On our last day in town we passed a street vendor with a table full of the fruit and Chloe and I decided it would be a good idea to buy some fruit and take it all the way back to Jakarta.
Terong belanda is a bit tart and has a berry taste, like a blend of raspberry, blackberry and blueberry, but still its own unique taste. The beautiful exterior purple hues are an added bonus.
To make juice from the fruit you need to scoop out the interior of the fruit and add some water and sugar and then blend.
So if you find yourself face to face with a tamarillo, give it a go.
One of the first things I do when visiting a new country is go to the market and check out the fruit. Sri Lanka was no different and it was on the first day of our trip that I spotted a green, round fellow with an incredibly hard outer shell. Meet, wood apple, also known as elephant apple, monkey fruit or curd apple. The story of the wood apple and I is one full of hope, then despair, and then hope again, followed by a final sweet conclusion.
I decided I should just buy one right off the bat during my first day in Sri Lanka.
The one I bought was gray-ish and I asked the vendor if it was a good one. He said, “yes,” so I thought I was good to go. Later in the day we returned to our guest house and I ask the live-in maid to help me with the fruit (because I had no clue how to eat it, or which parts you could eat). All of a sudden she pulled out a machete (because who doesn’t have one in their kitchen?) and gave the hard outer shell a few good whacks. The shell cracked revealing the inside of the fruit. It was brown and then the girl started waving her hand at me and moving her head back and forth. She wasn’t smiling. All of a sudden I understood. It was not a good apple. It was, in fact, a bad apple. I thanked her and retreated sullenly. Chloe reassured me we’d find another, but, I was a bit downtrodden and wondering if this fruit that required a machete was worth it? The wood apple would haunt me for the next 8 days of our vacation.
It has been far too long since I introduced everyone to a new fruit. Soursop might just be the ugly duckling of tropical fruit. Known in Indonesian as sirsak, this green, prickly fruit isn’t about to win any beauty pageants.
I was a bit intimidated by soursop. It isn’t the smallest of fruits and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. This all ended one day at the office canteen when the juice man, Uncle Jay, who insulted me on a regular basis (you looked pretty…..yesterday), made me his “special smoothie.” The smoothie was a mix of soursop and strawberry and I was instantly hooked.
Soursop does not have an especially hard skin, so you can give it a gentle squeeze to see if it’s ripe or not.