The Wacky and Wondrous Fruits of Chinatown
After coming out of a great Dim Sum feast on Saturday, I walked by a fruit stand with a few of my friends and one exclaimed “Oh my God! That hairy thing looks so wacky! What is it?” “It’s kind of like a lychee”, I said. And then I thought – I really need to write about these weird looking fruits you see in Chinatown. So common in Asia, many of these fruits are grown in places like California and Florida and then shipped to Chinatowns all over North America – never making it to the local Stop & Shop.
Along with Blueberries, Strawberries, Pineapples, Bananas and a huge amount of vegetables, are hidden several unusual looking and strange tasting fruits. Strange tasting YES, but not bad tasting! Most of them I love and buy regularly. (I’m not into sour fruits – pucker issues) I wanted to write this blog so that the next time you wander around Chinatown or go to your local Chinese market, you’ll know what that fuzzy, funny, odd- looking fruit is and give it a whirl.
The first one is one of my favorites because it looks so funny – like a plastic fuzzy toy or as some think, a Sea Urchin. It’s called a Rambutan and is common in Southeast Asia. Once open, its fruit is sweet and similar to a lychee. Thought to be originally from Malaysia, it is widely grown in most of Southeast Asia.
Bananas that small?! Yes! These are called Chuoi Sim Bananas and are common in Vietnamese cuisine. There is a great recipefor Banana pudding I found using these bananas. The ones in the photo are green but when ripened they turn a nice bright yellow.
Mangosteens! This sounds like the name of family of four from Amsterdam. Well it’s not! It is however a very hard fruit that once opened has a sweet, meaty inside. The name is Dutch and means ‘mango stone’ because it really does look and feel like a stone. In Chinese, it’s called a 山竹 (shan zhu) which means ‘mountain bamboo’ and although I’ve tried to find out why – I came up short.
Next, Yellow Skin Fruit (黄皮 – huang pi), a small round fruit that has yellow skin – hence the simple, yet clear name. The guy I bought these from told me that they are eaten normally by women for digestion when they are pregnant. I found them to be sour mostly, but some are sweet. Really unusual taste, but worth the adventure!
Jack Fruit is one that a few people have asked me about before. Not named after the guy with the beanstalk, Jack Fruit gets its name from the Portuguese who called it ‘jaca’. Jaca comes from the Malay word ‘chakka’ which is how they call it in Indonesia and Malaysia. It’s quite big and kind of looks like a pineapple. Taste wise it’s a bit like a sour apple.
Speaking of sour, the next fruit is called Sour. The Sour Sop is one of the funniest looking ones I found. I’ve that its flavor is like a combination of strawberry, pineapple and has a little tang of citrus. At first I wasn’t sure if this was a fruit and the vegetable stall man said very loudly ‘It’s delicious! And tastes like pineapple!”
And finally, the famous Dragon Fruit! This one is just simply beautiful and is so-called obviously because it looks like the head of a fiery Dragon. It is actually the fruit of a cactus that grows in Southeast Asia and southern China. Some say it tastes like a watermelon, but oftentimes, I just don’t want to eat it because it looks so cool on my table!
I loved tooling around Chinatown to find all these weird and wondrous fruits. And I really hope that this blog posting gives you a bit of courage next time you’re in your local Asian market or Chinatown to sample some of the truly unusual and magical fruits!