Wednesday, October 7, 2015

the land of fruit aplenty

If you're into fruit, you're in luck. SE Asia is a treasure trove of fruit i've only been able to find stateside at places like Buford Highway Farmer's Market in Atlanta. 

One night at sunset while walking through the courtyard of a restaurant in Hué, I noticed trees bearing heavy oblong fruit that looked awfully familiar... and I realized they were starfruit (carambola). I'd never seen them growing on trees before.  The only time i'd ever eaten any was in Florida, decades ago; the grandfather of my friend Caprice had trees and trees of them on his property in Miami, and gave us a big huge paper bag full of them one Christmas.  Caprice and I were really broke at the time, so we ate starfruit pretty much every day until we were sick of it and able to scrounge enough loose change out of the couch cushions to buy a pizza.  Fast forward a couple of decades and here they were, long, oblong and ridged, growing like crazy in Vietnam. The hostess noticed me gawking open-mouthed at them, and asked if i'd like some. A few minutes later, it arrived at my table, peeled, sliced, and with a dish of spicy salt to dip them into. I remembered that sour tanginess from those long ago Florida days. Dipped in salt, the fruit is really refreshing on a hot day.

starfruit


Dragonfruit is sold everywhere, and I mean everywhere. At least every 100 yards down any urban road there's someone hawking some. If you're not familiar with it, I can understand how it looks completely batshit insane. How would one go about eating one? That pink and green, as pretty as it is, is just the rind. You cut one of these in half and are rewarded with a stark white flesh dotted with black "seeds" (which are edible).  

dragonfruit


My breakfast a lot of mornings consists of a bunch of fruit (along with some ph because hey, when in Rome). A dragonfruit slice is in the background (where you can see the white flesh), along with watermelon, pomelo, rambutan, the best and most flavorful passionfruit i've ever tasted, and papaya. The papaya one gets in the States is pretty pathetic. You don't realize it is either, because you're too busy pretending to be all fancy by using the seeds in a vinaigrette or some other way for your neighbors to ooh and ahh about. You always have to doctor papaya up with a good squeeze of lime. Not so with this local stuff. It's complete heaven. 

yum.



This thing below was brought out to me one night while I was hanging out at a local American-owned brew pub. One of the bartenders, Oanh (pronounced One) has become a pretty good buddy. She came running out from the back with a plate of this and exclaimed, "CAROLINE! have you had this before?"

Figuring it was some sort of apple, I crunched down on one of the slices. While it's not an apple, though it has the texture of one, it's actually a plum. "What's the name of it?", I asked Oanh. She laughed. "Plum. we just call it 'plum'. mận in Vietnamese". She shrugged her shoulders. "It just translates to 'plum' ".


pronounced 'mun', with a sorta silent n.


Then there's this thing which I noticed one day at the breakfast buffet at a hotel. I couldn't figure out why there was a huge platter of little potatoes sitting right next to the papaya. I figured it was some kind of fig, so obviously I had to try it. The thin skin pulled back easily enough and I was rewarded with these globule-like capsules, each encasing a seed - not unlike a rambutan or longan fruit.  It's called langsat ( trái bòn bon or just bòn bon in Vietnamese).  Sweet but with a hint of bitterness, which I really like. 


langsat

Speaking of figs, came across this one at the market. But this type of fig is considered a vegetable in Vietnam. I didn't find out too much how it's prepared, but I will. Oh, I will.


Figgy McFig.


And then there's my old friend the durian.  You can't escape it here. It's everywhere. and you can smell it coming a mile away too. The other day at the Ben Thanh market in District 1, I could smell it wafting across the way over the vendors heads.  A lovely, putrid scent, a tinge of eau de death, stinky cheese, and old socks. I may taste it again one day just to fulfill the desire to eat it locally (and not frozen, shipped halfway around the world, like I had before - which was bad enough), but i'm not feeling that adventurous yet. 

you can stay right where you are, durian.

I can understand the jackfruit and durian, but what did the pup ever do to you?


Similar to France, fruit is served as dessert here - which i'm totally fine with.  Some of the sweets are just a bit too much for me.  Like this passionfruit cupcake I had a couple of weeks ago. It's pretty enough, but god was it teeth-achingly sweet. The top turned out to be marshmallow fluff. I thought it would be passionfruit flavored too, but sadly it wasn't. 

passionfruit cupcake and a cappuccino.


I want to recreate this with a passionfruit meringue, once I get a working oven. The current apartment has a kitchen rich in chopsticks, bowls, and dull knives.  It also has a tiny little toaster oven, with four settings: Light, Mid, High, and Toast. It turns off after 15 minutes of use. I managed to roast garlic in it the other day, though I kept having to jump up and restart the damn thing every quarter of an hour. Hey, adapt, improvise, overcome, they say.

And if all else fails, go for the chocolate. 

The cure-all for all shitty moods: Vietnamese coffee and a chocolate cupcake covered in ganache and sprinkles. BLISS.

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