TROPICAL FRUITS

Beijing, 11 December 2013

I’ve just come back to China from a business trip abroad. As is my habit on these trips, I picked up whatever English-language newspapers were being proffered at the plane door. On the return leg, I found myself with the International New York Times (until recently the International Herald Tribune). Once we had taken off, I settled into my usual reading routine, which is to start with the cartoons, have a stab at the Sudoku and sometimes the crossword (depending on how easy it is), then meander through the rest of the newspaper, settling on whatever articles catch my eye. In this particular edition, I came across an article entitled “Letting the Nose Lead the Way”, about the durian. The article was a paean to the durian, the author an unashamed fan. So much of a fan that I decided to write this post in protest and to right the balance.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the durian, this is it:

durian on tree

It is a tropical fruit common throughout Southeast Asia and southern China. A huge fruit which can weigh up to three kilogrammes and whose husk is covered with large nasty spikes. Which two facts together lead some to wear safety helmets if they venture into durian orchards when the fruit is ripe and ready to fall. I kid you not:

safety helmets under durian trees

When you split open the husk you find these squishy pods inside

durian inside

Durian inside-2

which smell and taste absolutely … disgusting.

The first – and last – time I ate durian was in Malaysia in the mid-1990s. I was with a Moroccan colleague. It was the first time for both of us in the country. We were with a third colleague, an Italian, who had been many times to Malaysia. We were driving through some village when he suddenly ordered the driver to stop and us to get out. We were confronted by a roadside vendor behind a pile of these large spiky fruits. We absolutely had to try one, our Italian colleague declared, it was rightly called the king of fruits. The vendor split open the husk, and a nauseous smell hit us.  We hesitated, but he urged us on; get beyond the smell, he cried, the taste is sublime. And all my life I will remember the face of my Moroccan colleague as he bit into that yellow guck, a look of pure horror and utter revulsion. A look which was mirrored in my face as I too bit into the guck. This photo, of a poor kid who has just tried durian for the first time in Indonesia, sums up the experience well.

Kids-Feel-Sick-After-Eating-Durian

Never, ever, again.

You don’t have to open the husk to get the smell. It spreads around the unopened fruit like a sickening miasma. So strong is the smell that durians are often prohibited from enclosed public spaces.  I disovered this in Singapore after my trip to Malaysia, where there were prominent signs banning durian from the subway system.

no_durian-singapore

The long list of things you can’t do in Singapore has now become something of a joke, but the ban of durians on the subway is one which I completely and heartily approve of.

If this had been my only experience with tropical fruit in Malaysia, I would have left the country with a permanently bad impression. Luckily, though, my Italian colleague redeemed himself by introducing us to three other tropical fruits (or froo-wits as he called them): the jackfruit, the mangosteen, and the rambutan.

The jackfruit looks uncannily like the durian. The fruit is also large – huge, sometimes – and has a spiky exterior, although nothing like as spiky as the durian

Jacfruit at Nunem

The pods inside are also yellow and squishy

jackfruit inside

jackfruit pulp

But the taste is a universe away from the durian: a delicate sweetness which lingers in the mouth and urges you on to take the next morsel.

As for the mangosteen, ah, what a fruit! From the outside, it looks something like a large plum but with a hard rind.

Mangosteen on tree

When you crack open the rind, you find that it harbours soft, dazzlingly white segments

mangosteen inside-3

which literally taste divine, something surely that was invented by nature only for the gods to eat: juicy, supremely sweet, yet with an acid overtone that holds the sweetness in check, preventing it from becoming cloying.

And finally the rambutan, a wonderfully hairy looking fruit (reminding me always of a certain part of the male anatomy), growing in clusters on the tree

rambutan on tree

When the rind is opened, a glistening small white globe is uncovered

rambutan inside-2

with a taste very much like fresh lychee; not surprising, since the two are relatives. I smuggled a batch of rambutans back to my wife (I’m sure I was not allowed to import them), and they tasted as good at our kitchen table in Italy as they had in the market in Malaysia.

There comes a time of year, in autumn, when street vendors in Beijing begin to sell durian. When that sickening smell wafts over me again, I make a wide detour and occupy my mind’s eye, nose and mouth with the wonders of jackfruit, mangosteen and rambutan.

______________________

Durian on tree: http://bizzarrobazar.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/cd81e7e027f4cae2c94959b42b6797f6.jpg [in http://bizzarrobazar.com/tag/durian/%5D
Safety helmets under the durian tree: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_fVVBfNE7dsI/SBawmCQGfsI/AAAAAAAAAdA/T1oJ-Rm8IfE/s400/109-0970_IMG.JPG [in http://dusundurian2002.blogspot.com/%5D
Durian inside: http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3782/9372567678_1077e89202_b.jpg [in http://www.sgfoodonfoot.com/2013/07/rws-invites-durian-fest-2013.html%5D
Durian inside-2: http://hype.my/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Durian.jpg [in http://hype.my/2013/05/durian-pizza-anyone/%5D
Kid feeling sick after eating durian: http://www.indoboom.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Kids-Feel-Sick-After-Eating-Durian.jpg [in http://www.indoboom.com/2013/videos/americans-taste-durian-for-the-first-time-indonesian-reactions.html%5D
No Durians-Singapore: http://dodontdontdo.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/singapore_several_2011_transtation.png [in http://dodontdontdo.wordpress.com/2011/05/20/no-bombs-no-no-durians/%5D
Jackfruit tree: http://www.parrikar.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/jackfruit-tree-nundem-goa.jpg [in http://www.parrikar.com/blog/2012/01/16/jackfruit/%5D
Jackfruit inside: http://www.envygfx.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/jackfruit-picture-kerala.jpg [in http://www.envygfx.com/yellow-flowers/jackfruit-picture-kerala.html
Jackfruit pulp: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-eJb31wThfh8/TzQyJZbTraI/AAAAAAAABlY/8xRgGyoUPNI/s1600/jackfruit+pulp.jpg [in http://www.skinny-vegan-food.com/2012/02/what-is-jackfruit.html#.UqcyWielrnQ%5D
Mangosteen on tree: http://0.tqn.com/d/treesandshrubs/1/0/K/3/-/-/MangosteenFlickrgoosmurf.jpg [in http://treesandshrubs.about.com/od/fruitsnuts/ig/Tropical-Fruit-Photo-Gallery/Mangosteen.htm%5D
Mangosteen inside: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_B2KRqsfacXY/TPauKjqVJ2I/AAAAAAAAAD8/47vgd8Q51Dg/s1600/Fruit+%25282%2529.jpg [in http://mastryone.blogspot.com/2010/12/mangosteen-juice.html%5D
Rambutan on tree: http://www.panoramicfruit.com/P1000481Copy2cropped.jpg [in http://imagejuicy.com/images/fruits/d/durian/5/%5D
Rambutan inside: http://www.baldorfood.com/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/r/a/rambutan.jpg [in http://www.baldorfood.com/rambutan%5D

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Abellio

I like writing, but I’ve spent most of my life writing about things that don’t particularly interest me. Finally, as I neared the age of 60, I decided to change that. I wanted to write about things that interested me. What really interests me is beauty. So I’ve focused this blog on beautiful things. I could be writing about a formally beautiful object in a museum. But it could also be something sitting quietly on a shelf. Or it could be just a fleeting view that's caught my eye, or a momentary splash of colour-on-colour at the turn of the road. Or it could be a piece of music I've just heard. Or a piece of poetry. Or food. And I’m sure I’ve missed things. But I’ll also write about interesting things that I hear or read about. Isn't there a beauty about things pleasing to the mind? I started just writing, but my wife quickly persuaded me to include photos. I tried it and I liked it. So my posts are now a mix of words and pictures, most of which I find on the internet. What else about me? When I first started this blog, my wife and I lived in Beijing where I was head of the regional office of the UN Agency I worked for. So at the beginning I wrote a lot about things Chinese. Then we moved to Bangkok, where again I headed up my Agency's regional office. So for a period I wrote about Thailand and South-East Asia more generally. But we had lived in Austria for many years before moving to China, and anyway we both come from Europe my wife is Italian while I'm half English, half French - so I often write about things European. Now I'm retired and we've moved back to Europe, so I suppose I will be writing a lot more about the Old Continent, interspersed with posts we have gone to visit. What else? We have two grown children, who had already left the nest when we moved to China, but they still figure from time to time in my posts. I’ll let my readers figure out more about me from reading what I've written. As these readers will discover, I really like trees. So I chose a tree - an apple tree, painted by the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt - as my gravatar. And I chose Abellio as my name because he is the Celtic God of the apple tree. I hope you enjoy my posts. http://ipaintingsforsale.com/UploadPic/Gustav Klimt/big/Apple Tree I.jpg

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