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.

Balinese Fruit, IndonesiaBalinese Fruit, Indonesia

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.

Balinese Fruit, IndonesiaBalinese Fruit, IndonesiaBalinese Fruit, IndonesiaBalinese Fruit, IndonesiaBalinese Fruit, IndonesiaBalinese Fruit, Indonesia

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.

Balinese Fruit, IndonesiaBalinese Fruit, IndonesiaBalinese Fruit, Indonesia

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.

Balinese Fruit, IndonesiaBalinese Fruit, Indonesia

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.

Balinese Fruit, IndonesiaBalinese Fruit, IndonesiaBalinese Fruit, Indonesia

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!

13 Responses to “The ABC’s of Indonesian Fruit”

  1. Lani says:

    The fruits just gush with juice in the photographs. You can taste all their different flavors!!! A million questions to be answered every day! I am sure that the pineapple was as sweet as sugar…..what a great treat of fresh fruit this time of the year. In New York the temperature is not quite above zero and the fruits available are slim……so thanks for the treats…..

  2. Sarah Musi says:

    Great post; I love trying unique fruits. The only one of these I haven’t had is the mangosteen which I’ve searched for everywhere in Seattle but can never seem to find one. As for durian, it’s one of those “aquired tastes” and either you love it or you hate it. I’d say the consistency and flavor taste exactly like a roasted garlic clove covered in confectioners sugar. I found it much easier to eat once I pegged the garlic taste.

    The trick to keep it from smelling too much is to make sure to keep it cold in a plastic bag (kind of hard to do in places like Indonesia). Also, it’s peel-able and falls into sections containing custard-colored pods of fruit. I say this because many people try to cut it open which is probably the most frustrating way to get a durian open.

  3. Catherine M. says:

    I’ll just leave you with this little story.

    A friend recently went to Malaysia and I thought it would be funny and mischevious of me to ask him to try the Durian. All he knew about it was that it was a very popular fruit. So, he goes to Malaysia, is having a blast and comes across the Durian fruit. He asks to try it but the locals warned him that it wasn’t for “everyone”. No matter…he wanted to try it because I recommended it.

    He said it tasted absolutely awful and he couldn’t go past the one bite he had. End result? It makes you burp. And you burp something really foul smelling , so much so that his guide and companions demanded that he sit at the back of the van with the windows open….Needless to say, he returned from Malaysia very upset with me because the smell of the durian stayed with him for three entire days! LOL

    So I would just stick with the durian ice cream 🙂

  4. Catherine M. says:

    Excuse the grammatical errors….it’s early morning here 🙂

  5. Kerrin says:

    Gosh, I am so curious about this infamous Durian!

    Sarah, you are quite the Durian expert. Where did you discover it… I can’t imagine you found it in Seattle!? I’m not sure yet how I feel about a sugar coated garlic clove – that sounds rather harmless though. Sugar coated anything can’t be all that bad after all! 🙂 But interesting indeed!! By the way, as Catherine tells us, did it make you burp too? What a weird fruit!

    If I hear of where you can find the mangosteen, I’ll be sure to let you know…

    Catherine, what a story! That is hysterical. But I guess your friend didn’t find it as funny. Hope at least now the smell is gone from his breath, ha ha! I can’t believe how strong it must have been, even after just 1 bite. Gosh, I’ll need even more courage than I thought to try it! Thanks for sharing the story !!

    Oh, and I’d be careful if this same friend gives YOU any advice on your next adventure!! 🙂

  6. Sarah says:

    To be honest, I actually kind of liked it. In fact, I’d definitely eat it again if someone offered it to me. You can often get durian at Asian markets. An enormous percentage of the Seattle population is Japanese and Chinese so we have several such stores, the most popular being Uwajimaya (mainly Japanese food but they also feature Chinese, Indian and Vietnamese foods).

    I don’t recall any burps, but considering the reputation of garlic, that may make sense for some folks. I don’t usually have any adverse reactions to garlic unless I really go overboard.

    I’d say most people’s repulsion stems from being unaccustomed to a supersweet fruit with very strong savory tones. It’s just a very weird combo and tends to catch people off-guard.

  7. Stéphanie says:

    Après mes cours, cet après midi, je suis allée acheter mes fruits et légumes. Je suis revenue avec ce que tu appelles “sugar apple”, je suppose qu’elle n’était pas mûre car l’intérieur était tout dur autour des grains noirs, immangeable.
    J’ai aussi pris des “klengkeng” et nous nous sommes régalées (Naïs et moi sommes fans de litchis, de physalys, de fruits de la passion, mangue, ananas…). Je n’avais jamais acheté avant.
    Réaction de Cédric “tu fais tout comme Kerrin?”, oups.

  8. Jenn says:

    How interesting! I love the rambutans — they look delicious. As always, thanks for sharing these wonderful photos!

  9. Mickey Belosi says:

    I’m going to Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore in the next couple weeks. I printed this as a reference. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  10. Alastair Humphreys says:

    I came across your blog through the Lonely Planet winners list – well
    done! Fantastic achievement.

  11. LS says:

    Hi all

    Just thought want to share….

    I am Malaysian….

    For durian, either you love it or hate it, which is true – and try to eat few more different varieties as each give you different flavour, you can hardly find two that taste the same
    Rambutan – there is another similar fruit called pulasan, with thicker skin
    Sugar apple – also known as custard apple in Malaysia, comes in green or red colour skin
    Soursop – looks like a bigger version of sugar apple but taste sweet and sour
    Klengkeng – also known as mata kucing in Malaysia
    Jambu Air – mild sweet, juicy (must buy look for the green, or maroon colour)
    Tembikai – water melon
    Jambu batu – guava (normally served with “preserved plum powder” or sprinkle of salt)
    Pisang – banana (we have different types of bananas, the finger size one can be very sweet
    Betik – papaya

    For dare devils:
    Nangka – Jack fruit in English, another strong flavour fruit, massive big fruits

    Cempedak – another “stink” bomb to some people, but if you get the right one it can be very sweet, available in deep fried version (seed is quite eatible when deep fried)

    Star fruits
    Pomelo – football size citrus fruit, either sweet or sweeet sour (bit like grapefruit)
    Ciku – small brownish fruit which can be sweet
    Langsat – looks like “mata kucing”, sweet
    Dragonfruit – comes in red or white variety

    Have fun 🙂

  12. ruby says:

    thanku this is so helpfullllllllllllll ily bebz xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  13. Jessica says:

    I LOVE MANGOSTEEN JUICE! I have consumed it regularly for 3+ years with great results, for me. I am off my asthma medicine and I live with 4 cats, 2 dogs, and a bird!

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