Saturday, March 15, 2008

Fruits of the Equator

Our travels over the past 10 months have included a lot of time close to the equator. The tropical climate means a constant production of fresh fruit. It is amazing how wonderfully delicious fruit tastes when it ripens on the tree, something that is increasingly difficult to find in the U.S. Daily street markets bring the fresh fruits to the general public,


an outlet America has replaced with supermarkets. Sales of the fruits provide a livelihood for farmers, transporters, and vendors of the region.

The staple equator fruit is the banana. It comes in many forms: the least tasty big and long one like Chiquita bananas of the U.S., my favorite stocky fat bananas,


and the tastiest tiny banana that's the size of a finger. The banana isn't just eaten raw. It's grilled and eaten like a potato. It's sliced up and used to flavor stews. It's fried and covered with honey as dessert. It's a staple in pancakes of Southeast Asia. Finally, it's even used to make the local potato chip.


Tens of different forms of oranges can be found at the equator. This dark green orange from Vietnam was a bit sour but incredibly juicy.


A relative to the orange but much larger was the pomelo, an equator-sized grapefruit.


This was one of the few fruits that both Laura and I loved.

Sapodilla was another that we both enjoyed.


When properly ripe, it tasted like melting caramel. Unfortunately, Laura ate an awful over-ripe one that made her swear them off.

Laura's personal favorite was dragon fruit.


The unusually shaped fruit has a white flesh speckled with black seeds. The texture is similar to that of a kiwi.

An english-speaking vendor in the Ratanakiri province of Cambodia got us really interested in trying his unusual fruits.


He gave us samples of sapodilla, dragon fruit, and tamarind plus he could tell us the English names of all the fruits. We purchased daily piles of fruit from him; this batch cost us one the order of $2.


Tamarind is a great snack fruit.


The hard outer shell can endure rough rides and once it's cracked open, a soft rusty-colored flesh surrounds a bunch of hard seeds. The flesh is flavorful and eating it can taste like a caramel-flavored hard candy.

Some fruits were unusually large. Jack fruit was probably the largest.


I only ever bought one of these because of the sticky slime within it. The slime is like glue and takes days to remove from hands, clothing, knives, etc.


In fact, the knife that I used to open the jack fruit still is not clean from the event and hence, has not been used again. Jack fruit seeds are often sold out of its natural protective shell in plastic containers, a pleasant way to enjoy it. Dried jack fruit chips are also popular and tasty.

The spiky durian fruit is similar in size but not in taste.


It is one of Lonely Planet Cambodia's five WE DARE YOU foods. Laura and I both tried it in Phnom Penh and it ranked as the worst WE DARE YOU food. Locals say it is an acquired taste but just the smell lets you know it should be avoided.

Rounding out the large fruits is soursop and coconuts. Soursops were one of my favorites.



They have a very tangy flesh that is easy to access. Often, it's just too large to finish. We all know coconuts but they're used differently in Southeast Asia. They are often picked very young so the flesh within them hasn't grown thick and hard. The reason being that they are desired more for their milk than their flesh. The milk often ferments or loses flavor the older the coconut gets. To preserve a tasty cocktail, the coconuts are picked and often served as a cheap, flavorful drink in restaurants.


Often, restaurants will crack it open when you are done, and the flesh can be eaten. The flesh is creamy soft and not nearly as tasty as the riper coconuts of the U.S.

Mangosteen was a small, expensive fruit in Cambodia.


It was quite rare to find and prized by locals for its flavor. Its price and rarity means I've only tried one and I can't remember the taste... what age can do to memory...

The water apple is the closest fruit to an apple.


Base on the few time I tried them, they had a texture similar to an apple but almost no taste. It was a lot like burying a supermarket apple that was picked way before it should have been. Not one of my favorites...

For its unusual shape, I was dying to try rambutan.


The strange peel is easy to remove revealing a white flesh that surrounds a seed. The flesh can often be sour which I find tasty.

In a Cambodian supermarket, I found a fruit labeled "Milk Fruit".



It was similar in size to a grapefruit and once opened, a white juice flowed out. The fruit was tasty and seemed to be a member of the soursop family.

My top two fruits are special to me. I bought more of these two fruits than anything else. Custard apple is most certainly a soursop family fruit.


The flower-like peel is removed petal by petal to reveal a thick, juicy flesh. The flesh is very sweet with the texture of a soft apple. You must be careful not to bite too hard as tens of large black seeds hide themselves within. My absolute favorite is longan.


I would often spend an evening peeling the rough brown shell off the white flesh and popping one after another into my mouth. A smooth, hard seed at the center makes for a great "watermelon seed"-like weapon. The taste and texture is most similar to a grape.

Of course, there are some fruits I couldn't identify and I've pictured them here in hopes that someone can. The first fruit has a yellow peel to conceal brown seeds surrounded by sour pink flesh. The pink flesh is tasty but really make your tongue tingle.


The next has a spiky brown peel that once removed, reveals a brown nut surrounded by yellowish flesh. Thre fruit is quite pungent and the flavor resembles that of durian but for me, it actually tastes good.


Finally, we have this final fruit that has a purplish-white flesh.


We found it in Siem Reap, Cambodia and some travelers mentioned its popular in Malaysia.

The equator has so many lush fruits that I've only posted those that I found and those that were uncommon in the U.S. At every market, one could find piles of mangos, pineapples, bananas, and oranges. Their amazing taste make me long for a better process in the U.S. to deliver fruits ripened by nature. And I don't want to live in Florida!

Now, a break from the travel blog to discuss trash in the third world. Many of the countries we have traveled within could be labeled as third world: Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Perhaps, one could argue to remove Kenya, Thailand, and Vietnam from the list. There are a number of common themes between third world countries: corrupt government, corrupt police, large divide between rich and poor, poor infrastructure, etc. One I'd like to focus on is trash.

Plastic bags are used throughout Southeast Asia. Everything sold is first placed into a plastic bag for transportation. If you buy a Coke in Thailand, the vendor will fill a plastic bag with ice and pour the Coke from the bottle into the plastic bag. If you buy a single stick of gum from a convenience store, it's still placed into a plastic bag. It's almost seen as rude to tell a store clerk that you don't want a bag; they don't enjoy breaking the routine. The problem is where do all these plastic bags go?

In Southeast Asia, the banks of the Mekong are littered with garbage.


If there is this much along the banks of the 4,500+ kilometer river, how much is in it? The photo above was taken 10 kilometers south of the rare freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins in Kratie, Cambodia. What chance do these dolphins really have? Roadways, sidewalks, parks, etc. are decorated with litter. Does the public care? Do they have a place to put the trash? Both of these questions are good. Maybe they don't have proper landfills that don't contaminate water sources. Maybe they don't have education campaigns to make citizens care about their environment. It wasn't too long ago that the U.S. government led an expensive campaign to stop its citizens from littering highways. Remember tossing that Big Mac wrapper out the window without feeling guilty? That still happens in the third world.

An effort to create a clean community can do so much and we've really noticed. Dalat, Vietnam had employees cleaning daily around the lake. Kigali, Rwanda started a country-wide "clean-up" day where very citizen, including the president, must pick up garbage in their community. Everyone gets a day off to do it! It's resulted in the cleanest city of all third world countries that we visited. Hoi An's french colonial streets had rubbish bins throughout and the garbage pickup service ran every morning.


These were very clean places and they were full of tourists. We enjoyed the cleanliness so much, we often stayed longer due to it. Were these places clean because of tourist money or were the tourists there because it was clean? I say conduct the experiment, clean up your town and see if people will come. It's so rare in the third world, I don't see how it couldn't attract new citizens or even tourism.

6 comments:

joylani said...

the one with the hard scaly skin is snake fruit and the other one (that looks like longan) looks similar to something that i tried that was (i think called) langsat, only the one i had was white/clear, not purple. maybe its related.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

so I have failed in doing my (paid)work tonight but the blog is just great and I'm all caught up in it. FOOOOOOD! Can't wait to eat freshly picked "fruits of the equator," drink copulous amounts of Bubble tea and BBQ fish along the Mekong.
However, trash is a huge issue as is the corruption of third world countries. It is very sad to think of the wildlife we are killing off and ultimately, ourselves, as a lack of taking responsiblity for our actions. Thanks for bringing both the good, bad, and ugly to light.

Sadie said...

I agree with Phoebe.

There may be no more fruit of this kind if we continue to neglect our environment.

Btw, love all the fruit pics. You guys are great... following your heart and living it up all over the world. Good luck!

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