The ABC’s of Indonesian Fruit
There was certainly a lot to learn while in Indonesia – religion, culture, history, land… and food. Staying in a house with Wiwit, a petite Balinese woman (you’ll see her photo below), allowed me to ask my 101 questions each day about what this is, what that’s called, how you make this, what that tastes like, and how does one eat that?! Not to mention my numerous questions on local customs and especially those Rice Guards! One thing that I came home with is a new set of Indonesian vocabulary – words for all of the different fruits we tried. So here is a small introduction to Balinese fruit. Keep your eyes open at your local supermarket or specialty food shop – a lot of these tropical fruits are exported.
An obligatory stop for me on any trip is always the market. I love checking out food stands, especially those with exotic fruit. It’s true that all of the different colors, wacky shapes, unfamiliar textures and funny names can be intimidating. Ask a local how to select fruit that is ripe, what it should look like inside and most especially, what parts are edible. Once home, if you open the fruit and it’s gooey and weird and smells totally bizarre – that may be normal! It’s all in the experience…
We had Apel Malang (apple), Pitang (banana) and Jeruk (orange), Papay (papaya), Semangka (watermelon) and Pir (pear). I was at least able to recognize these without needing a translator. The same was true for Mangga (mango) and Nanas (pineapple), even Rambutans and Manggis (Mangosteen) after having first discovered those in Madagascar a few years ago. But as far as Jambu Air, Salak, Klengkeng and Srikaya, I was luckily not on my own.
First up in the photo album is the Queen of Fruits. That would be the Mangosteen (left), which has been legally imported into the United States only since 2007. The mangosteen has hard, thick skin that is dark purple with tints of red and brown. Clasp the fruit between your hands and slowly squeeze it below the stem to reveal the bright white segments within, the larger of which may have pits. It has a subtle flavor, a nice balance of sweet and tart.
Next is the Marquisa Telur Kodok, Indonesia’s version of the passion fruit. When you see the photo below, you’ll understand the name – Telur Kodok translates to “frog eggs” in Indonesian! Not exactly an appetizing thought, nor consistency, when you scoop out the seeds, but the fruit does have a nice acidic flavor. The yellow fruit is feather light and filled with these gelatinous seeds that tend to stick together.
Rambutans, aptly referred to as Hairy Fruit, are sold in bunches still on their branches, and are definitely a sight to see. Spiny, soft leathery shells range from yellow to bright red and protect the litchi-like flesh within. Use a knife to make a slit and pop the fruit into your mouth. There is a pit inside to which the flesh clings rather tightly. Juicy and sweet, this is a popular favorite among tourists and locals alike.
The other fruit above, whose flesh looks like a mini litchi is the Klengkeng. The size of a small grape, it has a very thin brown shell that you can break open with your fingernails. I loved its sweet flavor, but you don’t get very much flesh in each one.
That’s Wiwit above who showed me how to properly carve a Nanas (pineapple), so that when you cut it in slices, you get pretty flowers. After shedding the pineapple of its tough skin, she made long, diagonal cuts with the knife to remove the brown “eyes.” This is just for presentation. As for cutting a Mangga (mango), there is one method that not only makes for a great presentation, but also makes eating it a whole lot simpler. You make two vertical slices as close to the pit as possible. Holding one half, flesh facing up in your palm, make a crisscross pattern with your knife, going through the flesh but make sure not to break through the skin. Then flip it inside out. You can eat it like that, biting off the cubes of flesh (have a napkin close by!), or slice them off to serve.
Last is a fruit that clearly falls into the category of exotic and potentially unappealing. The Srikaya, also known as the Sugar-Apple, resembles a green pine cone with brown scales. The skin looks very rough, yet it is actually very soft and fragile. Barely squeezing it will cause the whole thing to fall apart in your hand, and you can then pick out the small white individual sections. Each one has a black pit, so it’s even less to eat than the Klengkeng. Again, a unique and pleasing flavor, but very little flesh to eat.
While I started this post with the Queen of Fruits, I’d love to be able to end with the King of Fruits. That however, will take another trip to Southeast Asia, and a whole lot of courage. The Durian is known for its extremely noxious odor, turning people away left and right. I have heard that it is even banned in public places! Perhaps as a first step, I’ll try some Durian ice cream on my next trip to New York City, which is on the flavor list at the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. Any of you New Yorkers want to give it a go? Let me know what you think, and especially how it smells!