Discovering the Fruity Delights of Thai Cuisine
The Thai people do not have to be coerced into eating fruit in the way some Westerners do. It is consumed with almost every meal and can be found in markets and on street corners almost anywhere you go. Many of the most popular of these fruits are rather unrecognizable to Westerners though!
Increasingly however some of them are finding their way to North America and Europe, either in frozen or canned form or, very occasionally, as fresh imports. Still the sight of some of the fruits in the average Thai market would be quite confusing to Westerners seeing them for the first time. Here is a little about some of the most commonly consumed of them:
Durian is a large, spiky skinned fruit that is loved by the Thai people but often scares foreigners! Its spiked appearance aside durian - which is often referred to as 'the king of fruits' - has a very pungent smell that can be hard for those who have never consumed it before to get past to actually discover what the taste is like.
If they can however, they will discover it has a pudding like texture and perhaps the best description of its unique flavor came from British naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace who, during a visit to Thailand in 1856 wrote; "This pulp is the edible part, and its consistence and flavour are indescribable. A rich custard highly flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes. Then there is a rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy. It is neither acid nor sweet nor juicy; yet it wants neither of these qualities, for it is in itself perfect."
The jackfruit is as 'odd looking' as durian but much larger. In fact, this tree borne fruit is the largest such fruit in the world, reaching up to 80 pounds and three feet long. When it is broken open it contains dozens of seeds that are covered in a yellow flesh that tastes like a less juicy version of a pineapple. Oddly enough the century old classic American chewing gum, Juicy Fruit, is said to have been created around the jackfruit's flavor and that is in fact exactly how many Westerners describe the fruit's taste the first time they try it.
Dragon Fruit (Pitaya)
The one thing that dragon fruit certainly is attractive to look at, with its odd shape and bright pink skin. It is actually a cactus fruit and has a soft white, speckled flesh that is usually scooped out and eaten as a standalone dessert. In terms of flavor you could say it falls somewhere between a kiwi and a pear, although some dragon fruit is definitely sweeter than others.
A lychee is actually becoming a more common sight in North American supermarkets, especially in Florida where they are now cultivated. A small fruit with pink skin and white flesh their taste resembles that of a pleasantly sweet and juicy pear with a nice crispy bite.
Star fruit (Ma-phuang)
This is a fruit that looks exactly like its name would suggest. Its bright yellow flesh has a fresh, citrus taste that is very refreshing but slightly sour. Usually a star fruit is just one of those items of produce that produces a strong reaction in those tasting it for the first time; they either love it or hate it.
Sweet Tamarind (Makaam Waan)
Sweet Tamarind is a popular snack in Thailand as not only does it taste great - a little like a date - but thanks to its crunchy shell it is easy to carry and can be shucked like a peanut. It is also a very common ingredient in a number of delicious Thai soups.