Earlier this month I vacationed in Hawaii for two weeks. It was a wonderful trip overall (who wouldn’t enjoy two weeks of relaxation?) but one of my favorite parts of the trip was traveling to the local grocery store for produce and seeing an array of fruit I haven’t seen (at least in fresh form) since living in Thailand.
Oh how I miss the fruit over there!
Every day on my way home from work I would park my bike in front of the small silver fruit cart filled with a colorful and delicious array of exotic fruits. I’d select one which they would cut up on the spot and place into a little plastic bag with a single skewer as my utensil. I’d hop back on my bike to finish the ride home but would often stop before I arrived to eat the sweet contents of the bag – patience has never been one of my strong suits.
One of the most disappointing parts of moving back to the states was the realization that our fruit here is terrible. I’d never noticed it before, but in comparing it to the amazing options in Thailand, our selection really is awful.
So, seeing these fruits available to me again in Hawaii was such a treat and that’s what brought this Friday Five about. Here are my five favorite fruits of Thailand.
Rambutan – Ngo เงาะ
Rambutan is an interesting looking fruit – round or oval in shape, bright red with green hairs all over the outside. Many friends of mine have said it looks almost alien in nature and I’d have to agree! Very exotic and very delicious. To eat you break open the outer skin and remove the inner white fruit. The taste is similar to lychee and you have to be careful when eating as there is a pit/seed in the very center. I was able to eat some of this in Hawaii and while it wasn’t quite as good, it was wonderful to be able to have this again!
Availability: I have not found any ‘good’ rambutan locally. There was one market in the International district in Seattle that carried it but it was extremely expensive and not delicious at all. I did find a website (www.buyrambutan.com) that ships fresh (and supposedly yummy) rambutan around the U.S. It’s work checking out if you’re a big fan!
Mango – Ma muang มะม่วง
Of course we can get mangoes in the states, but I will almost never do so because there is no way they will compare to the ones in Thailand. My favorite variety in Thailand is the ataulfo mango – yellow in color – and so delicious! In Thailand mangoes are often given as a gift from a house guest to the host and there were times when I’d receive a huge bag of them from local visitors. I didn’t mind at all!
Availability: Mangoes are everywhere, but not necessarily good ones. I have never purchased a properly ripened mango at any general grocery store. It’s more likely you’ll find good mangoes at Asian markets, preferably locally owned. I don’t really know why but their shipments are usually far more ripened and ready to eat than some of the larger chain stores.
Mangosteen – Mongkut มังคุด
Mangosteen is my absolutely favorite fruit! This fruit has a very thick reddish-purple outer ‘shell’ that you must break through in order to get to the fruit. Inside, the edible part is segmented like an orange, very soft, and tastes similar to an apple or pear. Be careful with these though; often you’ll open them up to find a brown center – no way to tell these have gone bad unless you open them L such a waste!
Availability: These are also not readily available in the states. Again, I’ve found them once or twice at Asian markets but they were all brown – not a single one edible. My favorite Thai website ImportFood (locally based in Issaquah) does carry them when in season and the one batch I’ve ordered was great. That’s the only recommendation I have if you want to try them.
Tamarind – Makaam or makaan waan มะขาม
I was turned on to tamarind about halfway through my stay in Thailand by a local lady who used to sit out on her porch step with bags and bags of these just munching away and spitting the seeds into the street. Tamarind is a long pod-shaped fruit with a fleshy fruit inside. They taste similar to grapes or prunes and have multiple hard pea-sized seeds on the inside. While they are great as they are, the pulp is also used to flavor different Thai dishes.
Availability: I’ve had better luck finding tamarind locally than any of the other fruits. Because tamarind has a consistency of a prune or fruit roll up they tend not to go bad as quickly as other fruits. Rising Produce in Seattle had prepackaged boxes and I’ve seen them in a few other locations. If you are looking to use the fruit for cooking (tom yum, etc.) then it’s much easier to just buy tamarind paste from any local Asian market.
Longan – Lum yai ลำไย
The last on the list was a toss-up between baby bananas and longan. If this was called the “Friday Six” I would have included both, but I made the rules and I need to follow them so longan it is (though baby bananas are delicious too!). Longan comes on a branch of many brown round balls. Inside each ball is a translucent fruit similar to lychee that tastes like a really sweet grape. These are delicious!
Availability: Unfortunately, I have not spent a lot of time looking for longan in the states so I can’t tell you exactly how “available” it is, but I’ve also never walked through a produce/fruit section and noticed it there. I have a feeling it’s not the most popular of exotic fruits, and therefore, it isn’t around much.