On our return to Thailand, it was paramount to commence our tropical fruit indulgence. Courtesy of the Chiang Mai morning market, our bellies are the happy recipients of a coconut and a mango (in fruit shake form), three rose apples, a green mango (with chili/sugar of course), and a pink dragon fruit. The last one made a particularly lasting impression on us.
Today’s new tropical fruit was the lilikoi – Hawaiian passion fruit, usually referring to the yellow variety. They are nuttier, more bitter, less fluorescent, and not as sweet or tart as their purple counterparts. I didn’t love them standalone, though they worked well with our yogurt this morning. We also tried our hand with a lilikoi-pineapple milkshake – it was not quite as successful as our longan experiment. We were worried about overpowering the lilikoi with pineapple, but we shouldn’t have fretted – two lilikoi stood up handily to half of a large pineapple.
Overall, I will stick to purple (a.k.a. black) passion fruit – the wrinklier, the better.
I thought I hated papayas. They could be made tolerable if generously squirted with lime juice, as I learned in Pondicherry, but in general I never sought them out. My co-workers in Mae Hong Son would occasionally bring me a plate of chilled papaya on hot days in the office, and I enjoyed the Thai variety more than I did the Indian, but it was still not one of my favorites (green papayas were, of course, another story).
Kenny generally shared the same opinion of the fruit during our travels in Asia, so I was surprised on our first day here when he suggested that we try a Hawaiian papaya while we browsed the offerings at Moloa’a Sunrise Fruit Stand.
We were both pleasantly surprised the next morning, when we carved up the papaya for our oatmeal. It was sweeter and richer than the ones we had tried in Asia, and we were instantly hooked. Since then, we’ve had papaya on fruit plates, in smoothies, mixed into our yogurt or cereal in the mornings, and in a cucumber-papaya-lime-spring greens salad that we invented and enjoyed so much that we prepared it twice in one day.
The storekeeper at Banana Joe’s taught us how to choose a ripe papaya: just look for the ones that are mostly orange on the outside. When choosing, they prefer that you judge by color and refrain from squeezing to avoid bruising the goods.
I first encountered longans in 2007 on a trip through the Mekong Delta. Our guide picked them fresh from the trees for us to try. I remember them being lychee-like, but with thicker skin, much bigger pits, less flavor, and a very thin flesh. Overall, they were a lot of work for minimal payoff.
This week in Kauai, I’ve been keen to try any local tropical fruit on offer. On Tuesday that included longan, the special of the day at Banana Joe’s. It turns out that Hawaiian longan are notably different than their Vietnamese counterparts (or at least from the ones I tried). First, the pits are much smaller. Second, the skin is thinner (think lychee, but without the bumps). The result is a lot more flesh per-longan. They have the texture of a lychee with a taste that’s nuttier and less sweet. While a significant improvement from my first longan experience, they still weren’t a fruit I would gorge on directly. However, tonight we made a great discovery: longan-banana-soy milkshakes. The banana added just the right amount of sweetness and soy milk complemented the longan’s natural malty flavor. While it still won’t make my top 10 list of tropical fruits, in Kauai I’ve learned how to appreciate it and will likely make another milkshake the next time we visit!
As you know, I love chilies. When Kenny and I were browsing the produce section at the Princeville Foodland a few days ago, he asked me which chili I’d like to have on hand to spice up our morning eggs. We declined the jalapenos and anaheims (not spicy enough), but Kenny remembered from a past conversation with a purveyor at the Seattle farmer’s market that habaneros were supposed to be among the spiciest chilies out there. We decided it would be good to have 5 or 6 of the teeny little guys around.
That evening, we cooked up some quinoa to make a salad, with a few diced tomatoes, onions, cilantro, carrots, local oranges, olive oil, and a few squirts of lime juice. Kenny told me that he would start with “just two” habaneros – we could always add more if the salad wasn’t spicy enough.
We were in for a bit of a surprise. The salad was so spicy that we almost couldn’t eat it. Almost. It may have even been spicier than Sumalee’s 6-star spicy mango salad (though probably not). But it was also amazingly delicious, in that it-hurts-so-much-to-eat-it-but-I-can’t-stop sense. Kenny reminded me that there’s a reason for this spicy food behavior, which explains why I find chilies so addictive. According to this site (which will also teach you more than you ever wanted to know about the chemistry of spiciness), eating chilies induces a certain amount of pain, which triggers the brain to release endorphins in order to ease the pain, creating a kind of chili-induced high. It turns out that we chili fiends are basically drug addicts.
There’s also a way to quantify spiciness, known as the Scoville Unit, and as a result there is a general ranking of chilies by hotness. You can check out a nifty chart with the rankings here, ranging from sweet bell peppers (not spicy), all the way up to the naga viper, which recently beat out the infinity chili to earn the Guinness World Records title of world’s hottest chili. The verdict: the habanero (meaning from Havana) is basically the spiciest chili that’s readily available in grocery stores and the like. The naga viper is apparently an unstable hybrid incapable of reproduction, and likely won’t be making its way to the Princeville Foodland anytime soon.
One fun change from our last visit to Bangalore is the availability of different fruits on the street. Mangoes are certainly getting prime billing, and there are at least three varieties on every block. However, there are also many carts peddling oblong, shiny black fruits called jamun. While I was unable to sample jamun-flavored ice cream last night at Natural (they were out of stock), we acquired some of the whole fruits on our way home from lunch this afternoon. The taste had some similarities to goumi, including the side-effect of drying out my mouth, though the overtones were mildly sweet instead of sour.
- Easy Thai, especially Rarn P Dam, where Kenny eats lunch every weekday.
- Super spicy delicious Burmese ethnic minority cuisine.
- Mango and sticky rice.
- Now that I mention it, mango with anything. Or mango with nothing.
- Lychees, rambutans, and mangosteens.
- Free community yoga twice a week.
- Riding my bicycle everywhere and never worrying about traffic.
- The fact that the highway, which runs right behind our apartment, generally has more joggers on it than cars.
- Our co-workers, who have also become good friends.
- Swimming in the Nam Pai on hot days.
- Eating delicious fruits and vegetables every day that come from our own farm.
- Living the easy life in our peaceful town, nestled in a beautiful valley.
- Frogs, geckos, roosters, and other fun neighbors. Well, maybe not the roosters so much. They are pretty, but it will be nice to sleep in past 5am.
- Drawing on our software engineering experience to contribute to the fight for democracy in Burma.
I ate my first fresh lychees over a decade ago at Tropical Chinese in Miami, and I remember the experience vividly. They were served over ice and tasted sweet, fleshy, and very refreshing.
Since then, I have rarely encountered fresh lychees, though we’ve certainly had our share of rambutan (which are often referred to as “lychees” in these parts). This week they’ve been flooding the markets, with a big bunch going for 20 Baht (~$0.60). I bought my second bunch today. They are more acidic and sweeter than rambutan, and also have a crustier skin and thinner flesh. Delicious chilled, I bet their strong flavor would make for a great ice cream (and I know they are awesome in vodka martinis).
Just as we are nearing the end of our stay in Thailand, many of our favorite tropical fruits are coming into season. Just after Songkran, rambutan started appearing in the market, and Thursday marked the beginning of mangosteen season. It is also prime time for mangoes, both green and yellow.
We intend to take full advantage of this bounty until the day we leave Thailand. Though there are a few fruits that we have had our fill of after a single bite, when one of our favorites hit the fruit stands, I celebrate with a kilogram purchase. Lauren has declared that we will have two mangoes a day, and I have been stopping at the market daily to procure said mangoes as well as whatever new treats are available.
This past weekend in Chiang Mai, the fruit gorging took on a whole new level of ridiculousness. Jessica had just discovered mangosteens, and was an a fruit rampage for her last 48 hours in Thailand. She probably consumed more mangoes and mangosteens in that timeframe then Lauren and I have in a week. This afternoon I saw lychees for the first time this year. Guess what we’re eating right now?
After purchasing an assortment of fruits for dinner last night, I noticed a basket of prickly teardrop-shaped brown fruits. I asked the fruitman what they were, he said what sounded like “slaa” and gave me a free sample.
When I arrived at Lauren’s NGO I found out that it is called salak, or snake fruit, and comes from a species of palm tree. Lauren’s co-worker (who loves salak) told us that people either love or hate them, like so many other things. Opening it up, the skin was thin and crumbly, which made it difficult to peel. Inside, the pulp smelled like stinky cheese. The taste was somewhat acidic, both sour and sweet. Lauren and I each had a taste, and then happily handed the rest over to her co-worker to enjoy.