Sunday, September 13, 2009
Destination Vietnam #4: Fruit in Southeast Asia
A fruit seller in Thailand
For all the agrotechnology we have in this country, it's amazing to think we can't produce fruit as delicious as in tropical areas. Of course, barring considerations of growing conditions and transportation, American fruit is mediocre at best. Especially after my move from California to New York, I realized I lucky I was to have the plentiful produce of sunny Cali. But still, California's got nothing on Southeast Asia in terms of fruit.
In Hanoi's old district, the streets are still known by the commodity that they sell. All the metal workers gather together and make a tin street. A little further is the leather street. Got an itch for stone Buddha statues? There's a street for that too. For the more food inclined, I'd suggest searching for the fruit "smoothie" street.
As you can see, they are not exactly smoothies. It's just a collection of fresh tropical fruit with crushed ice and condensed milk. I'm not sure what it is with Asians and condensed milk, but we love the stuff. Milk teas, mango pudding, toast, we'll eat it over anything. In this case, the milk just adds to the well-documented Vietnamese sweet tooth.
As far as eating fresh fruit on the street with questionablely produced ice, I'll again say that I ate without getting sick. And given the cheapness and abundance of tropical fruit, you'll really miss out if you neglect the street.
For the actual fruit, there is papaya, watermelon, dragonfruit (probably the coolest named and looking fruit, though incredible bland), mango, rambutan, longan and tapioca. Though you could certainly go to town on the fruit plain, the milk and ice made a pleasant dessert to cut through the sweltering heat of Vietnam.
The following are photos of fruit I encountered throughout the trip.
Rambutan, the most alien looking fruit. Tastes extremely similar to lychee.
Smoothie lady on street in Chiang Mai. Select the cup with the fruit, she blends it with ice and hands you a straw. Delicious.
My friends' first encounter with durian. Amused Vietnamese in background not pictured.
Most set meals finished with a dessert of fresh fruit like this pineapple and watermelon.
This was one fruit I had not encountered before the trip. I was determined to buy and try one of these mangosteen.
Mangosteen tastes like lychee too, though it has a certain tartness similar to cranberries. Be careful, it stains.
Miniature watermelon. Who knew?
Custard apples were more custard than apple. They have a soft, fragrant flesh like durian without any offensive odor.
Fruit seller in floating market in Thailand. From left to right: longan, starfruit, pomelo, custard apples, and a fruit I could never identify that looked like small hair yams.
Dragonfruit. I'd compare it to kiwi, but more like kiwi's plainer cousin that nobody asks out. Don't get me wrong, it's an awesome looking fruit, but doesn't taste like much. Wandering Chopsticks grew dragonfruit.