Road Trip Cambodia: All The Fruits
Brooklyn Heights has streets named Cranberry, Orange and Pineapple, but maybe we can convince Marty Markowitz to change them to Rambutan, Durian and Mangosteen.
My travel companion (aka Edna Krabappel) had never been to Southeast Asia prior to this trip, and I was determined to introduce her to some of the native fruits. Ever the sport, Edna agreed to at least try the more uncommon fruits, regardless of what she had heard about them prior to the trip.
We started off with an easy one: rambutan. Rambutan is the hairy cousin of lychee and longan, and it is eaten in the same way as its less spikey counterparts. After delicately getting past the leathery outer portion with a knife, all you have to do is pick out the white fleshy inside and eat around the inner seed. It’s sweet with a slight hint of tart. Edna really liked rambutan and said it was better than both lychee and longan. All three can usually be found in your local Chinatown or Asian market.
J. Frankfurter is a fan of durian. Not so long ago, he bought one to try and then proceeded to make a durian cheesecake, much to the chagrin of his wife. With respect to this trip, J. Frankfurter adamantly requested that I get Edna to try durian.
For those unfamiliar, durian is a large, thorn-covered fruit known for its distinctive odor and flavor which people either love or hate. I neither love it nor hate it. Honestly, I’m not really bothered by the odor and think it smells somewhat sweet.
Many people, however, are so bothered by the odor (which has been described in terms that are not re-printable here) that numerous establishments, including hotels, forbid people from bringing in durian. Edna had been forewarned by many about the horrors of durian, but she didn’t find the smell offensive either. Now, on to the taste test. I previously told Edna that durian tastes like a sweet custard that has an onion-like aftertaste. If one is a fan of stinky French cheeses, durian is pretty manageable.
After paying $3 for the smallest (1.5 kg) durian we could find (note: durian is very heavy and, therefore, usually very expensive here in the U.S. due to shipping costs — usually around $8-10/lb. — again, you can buy durian in your local Chinatown), we had our fruit stall lady expertly cut through the thick, spikey husk to reveal the cells that hold the yellow flesh. After finding a park bench far away from the masses, we proceeded to dig into the flesh. Edna’s reaction? “I was surprised by how pleasant I found the taste to be.” While Edna liked durian overall and ate her fair share of that particular durian we bought, she shared my similar view that, while not repulsed by it, durian is not a favorite that should be sought out.
Last but not least is my favorite: mangosteen. Mangosteen looks like a little purple eggplant with a giant green top. After cutting through the dark reddish-purple outer rind, a white flesh is revealed. The taste can only be described as magical — both sweet and slightly tart, as if a Meyer lemon mated with a peach.
Edna quickly declared that this was her favorite after trying it for the first time. We ended up buying another kilogram (for a mere $2) the next time we saw a fruit vendor, and I’m sure Edna will have a few more before she leaves the region on her extended stay.
Unfortunately, it is very hard to find fresh mangosteen here in the U.S. The fruit is known to harbor fruit flies that are dangerous to U.S. crops and, thus, imports are severly restricted. Those mangosteens that do make it into the country are extremely expensive (can you say $25-45/lb?) and not as good. Irradiated mangosteens from Thailand are usually bruised from shipping. Some importers have started bringing in mangosteen grown in Puerto Rico. For most of us here, we have to resort the canned and frozen variety, which just aren’t the same as the fresh ones.