Strange Fruits of Thailand
Durian is best eaten when the flesh is slightly soft and almost melts in the mouth
You will never become a Thai fruit addict if you aren’t prepared to take risks. It’s unusual when strolling down the aisles of a European supermarket to see produce that looks like it could take a bite out of you, but if you were to venture to the markets of Hoh Chi Min City, Hong Kong, or Jakarta, or indeed do some shopping in Pattaya, you would see such fruit piled high on every stall.
What do our Asian friends know that we don’t? Perhaps they have simply had the courage to persevere beyond appearances and discover tastes they cannot live without. We all know the taste of an orange, an apple, a banana. When you visit amazing Pattaya, the Extreme City, why not have a go at developing a healthy new addiction?
Like most of the fruit that will feature in this series, sala is easy to find in the fruit markets and stalls of Pattaya, Rayond, and Chantaburi. The fruit normally comes in large bunches and are reddish pink or maroon in colour, depending on their variety and origin.
The Thai variety sports spiny bristles, unlike its Indonesian and Malaysian counterparts (Salak) that are hairless, and often referred to as ‘Snake Fruit’ due to their scaly skin. When it comes to eating, be sure to grab the fruit by the tip to avoid the prickly hairs. Then rub the fruit on a rough stone or chopping board to remove the painful whiskers. Once it is bald the sala can be easily opened by stripping off the thin red skin to expose the creamy brown-coloured flesh inside.
The sala is usually divided into two individual ‘lobes,’ both containing a black seed. Once this is removed, it’s finally time to dig in to the soft, delicious fruit. The inexperienced can expect a unique taste sensation. The initial flavour is sweet, followed by a tang of sour which is not at all unpleasant. It’s a little like rum and raisin ice cream, with an extra shot of Jamaican rum. Give it a try and see what you taste!
Kanoon (Jack Fruit)
The Kanoon is similar in appearance to the durian fruit (see below), although without the tough defensive spikes. This football-sized fruit grows all over Thailand and is harvested when ripe enough to be drained of a latex-like juice within it.
A sharp knife can then be used to remove the fruit from the outer green skin and pithy interior. The edible part of the fruit is a bright shiny yellow with numerous tasty pieces. There is an odd texture to the kanoon flesh, a little like plastic. Regardless, it has a unique taste that gets sweeter when served chilled. It’s a good topping for fruit salads or sweets, or even when served with sweet sticky rice.
Kanoon can also be eaten fried or pickled, lending it a mild apple flavour with a slightly soapy aftertaste.
Durian is known for its distinctive smell. Some compare it to unwashed socks, others to the odour of rotten onions. This smell intensifies as the fruit ripens. Once you have overcome the aroma, you should ask the salesperson to tap the skin of each durian. The resulting sound indicates ripeness. It is inadvisable to buy the fruit whole, as it takes great expertise with a sharp cleaver to gain access to the delicious yellowish fruit inside.
Durian is best eaten when the flesh is slightly soft and almost melts in the mouth. The taste is surprisingly rich, with a hint of strawberries and cream. One taste of this King of Thai fruit, and you’ll be amazed how quickly the smell is overcome!
A word of warning: Due to its fragrance it is illegal to carry durian on any public transport or flights in Thailand!
An adventure beyond apples and oranges into the world of strange fruit is a worthwhile journey to make. Not only will you discover a host of exotic flavours, but you’ll also reap the benefits of countless natural vitamins and sugars. If you try only one new thing on your visit to Thailand, make sure it’s the fruit!