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.
Although I wasn’t a huge fan of Kuala Lumpur, I did enjoy my time exploring and tasting street food. My introduction to eating in Malaysia happened several months earlier during a trip to Penang. Penang had an amazing mix of different cuisines and I could have stayed there for a month just eating my way around. While traveling in Bangkok I met a woman from Kuala Lumpur and she told me I had to visit and eat on Jalan Alor. The first time I visited Jalan Alor I arrived around 5 p.m. because I was hungry and wanted to go to bed early. As I sat eating I watched the street come to life: men with menus in hand calling out to people, groups searching for tables large enough for their parties, and the smell of grilled meat and fish permeating the surrounding area. This was my kind of street.
My friend suggested I try WAW while on Jalan Alor. I was determined to find it. I walked passed many restaurants and was tempted to stop at many but I kept walking…all the way at the end of the street I found it:
The chicken wings were amazing, so amazing I never took a photo. I also devoured some kangkung, satay and other dishes that the camera just didn’t catch:
Wandering Jalan Alor:
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.
The first time I saw the bright orange, strange-looking thing, I had no idea what to think. Was it some kind of cheese? Was it even food? “Oncom,” my Indonesian tutor Niar said. Pronounced on-chom, this isn’t cheese. Oncom is an Indonesian staple closely related to the soy bean product tempeh. Oncom is made from all of the leftovers from tempeh and tofu and then it’s fermented. Since it is made from byproducts, it’s very cheap. A large slice of oncom at my market costs about 20 cents, if not less. Oncom is meaty and hearty and I think this will be the next big thing in soy bean products if it ever reaches the States.
I’d been dropping lots of clues to Niar during our Indonesian tutoring sessions and so one Saturday afternoon she came to my apartment and our tutoring lesson became a fun cooking and cultural class. Oddly enough, this was the first time I had seen oncom. The next time I went to the market I immediately spotted it and said, “oncom,” out loud. I delighted my vegetable lady who was surprised that I knew what it was.
Niar showed me how to make a light tasty batter and then we fried the oncom. It’s best eaten hot and it really is filling. See the recipe at the end of the post.