Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Produce Perspective (part two)

Durian Experience 

I first saw the infamous durian fruit at market stands in the neighborhood near our hotel in Beijing. Later on, they reappeared in stands in Kunming. Fruit were sold whole, and were usually the rinds were slices open to reveal the the edible fruit inside (I also often wondered how long they would keep them cut and in the open air before they were no longer food safe).
This photo was borrowed from Health Habits (http://healthhabits.ca/2014/06/03/the-best-tasting-fruit-you-have-never-tasted/) 

Finally, when venturing through Guilin’s downtown in search of dinner, I came across a vendor selling individual, pre-cut chunks of the flesh and not entire fruit. I hoped to sit down for the experience of trying the fruit, and caught wafts of its sweet onion scent from the plastic bag which held the to-go box in which my prize resided. Aware of its reputation for smelling and tasting very horrible (it is illegal to bring durians into some public places in parts of Asia), I was ready to taste the fruit. I had milk tea in hand to wash away the taste if I found it displeasing.

Opening the container, the smell was unmistakable, but not immediately revolting. When prodded, the ultra-soft and pale, yellow flesh creamed away from the large, tan seed inside. Plastic spoon transferred a cubic centimeter of meat to my mouth, and it tasted just as delicious as it smelled. I cared for none more, thought the fruit too smelly to bring to my hotel room and too disgusting to share, discarded the remainder, swished my mouth with my beverage of rid of the taste without immediate effects. 
I must have acclimatized to the flavor over time. However, brushing my teeth that evening must have disturbed what bits of the fruit were caught because I remember being revisited with hints of its presence once more in between sweet mint toothpaste. I purchased durian fruit candy while exploring a Chinese Walmart, and have yet to muster the motivation to learn whether or not sugar and a taffy texture improve the experience of durian consumption. I’ll be sure to have something with a stronger flavor that milk tea on hand to wash out the taste if needed. Drinking the liquid form of lime Jello gelatin comes to mind, as it was the rinse of choice as a child whenever I had to take particularly revolting medicine. Nonetheless, if the opportunity to try fresh durian fruit arises, I wholly recommend participating in the experience. And overall, if you’re a fan of the new and amiably unfamiliar, give some new fruits and flavors a try, or find something that reminds you of home but is slightly different. 

Produce Perspective (part one)

Having grown up in Indiana, I have not been exposed to many different kinds of warm-climate fruits besides the few standard varieties which make it to the supermarket. It was a welcome treat to have a familiar flavor come in a different form with greater freshness and easily peeled, as with any unwashed fruit or produce potentially rinsed with unclean water, we avoided eating fruits peel unless first rinsed with bottled water. First pictured is a mango, smaller and softer than the variety sold in the States that I have eaten.

However, the familiar fruit was simply warming me up to try more exotic fare.
The passion fruit’s rind is leathery and difficult to penetrate, like a cross between a thick grapefruit and a pumpkin rind which is just soft enough to be peeled away with one’s fingers. Upon removal, its insides reveal yellow-green jewels of seeds, but, rather than being rock hard, were suspended in a fruity slime pulp with consistency of caviar (or so I was told by my aunt who has experience both passion fruit and fancy fish roe), and easily scooped out with a spoon. The flesh was tart, with flavor like a barely ripe kiwi fruit matched with a the subtle sweetest of a peach, seeds breaking at bite and crunch and not unpleasantly hard. I recognized the flavor from a Welch’s brand “from concentrate” juice concoction of my childhood.
I picked up the passion fruit while heading back to our hotel after exploring downtown Yangshou, a sort of Chinese Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Feeling a little homesick, we found a pizza restaurant near a street featuring international (well, just western-style really) foods, like a beer garden, tapas bar, Texas steakhouse, and English pub. Next time I make Hawaiian pizza, I'll be sure to use fresh pineapple instead of canned. It made all the difference. 
^Hey look, that's me. We went for a bamboo raft (deemed "bamboodala") ride while in Yangshou

Blurry quick pic of the Italian restaurant

Lychee and mangosteen have flavors uniquely their own, and are difficult to describe.

The mangosteen’s rind was leathery like the passion fruit’s, but thicker and pink throughout. The fruit inside broke away from itself like cloves of garlic. The flavor I found indescribable, and the texture was like a firm peach and slightly more fibrous or stringy inside, but the experience much different as I peeled away segments of the fruit rather than biting into it. I gained no great attachment to the fruit, and was satisfied with the one I tried. If I encounter the fruit again I will be glad to try it again, but it was not a favorite of mine.

The yellow residue on the rind I supposed is leftover of some kind of spray, pesticide/fungicide. 

On first glance, a lychee fruit seems scaly and prehistoric. The bumpy exterior, however, easily peels away from the white fruit. The texture of the lychee was like the flesh of a firm grape, barring the “pop” of breaking through a grape’s skin. Inside lies a dark brown seed. 

                                                                          I borrowed this photo from Melissa's/World Variety Produce 
                                                              (http://www.melissas.com/Green Lychee-p/661.htm) 

Our first day in Beijing, and my first day in China, we spent the evening in the neighborhood market near our hotel, where everything one could need was readily accessible: pharmacies, groceries, moped repair, phone accessories, restaurants, and a back-alley pool hall. The small street had numerous produce vendors, each one selling green lychee fruit. I was still too apprehensive to brave the language barrier and purchase anything without the help of a Chinese speaker (five were in the study abroad group). I watched one student with the skill of Mandarin buy lychees, and this other small, globe-shaped red fruit about the size of a cherry. The new exotic fruit turned out to be only cherry tomatoes, and not unlike ones grown in home gardens in the states. According to this student, eating too many lychees at one time can cause a nosebleed. Disregarding the old wives’ tale, I snacked without worry, and enjoy the taste best when hungry or when the fruits are not so ripe.

On our last day in Beijing, I mustered up the courage to approach a vendor and purchase some fruits. The vendor was presumably the shop owner’s daughter, aged around 16 with a short, spunky hairstyle, and with a turn of hip and fingers in a peace sign stating “two two,” she said 二十二 (“èr shí èr,” twenty-two) for the price. Incredibly grateful for learning numbers words before coming on the trip, I gave her the money, earned my lychees, and enjoyed the dragon-skinned fruits of my growing confidence in operating outside of my native tongue.

Unfortunately, during the second week of the trip, I’d forgotten to use what bartering skills I’d picked up along the way. I do not recall by what metric the lychees were being sold, but they were being sold for a higher price per unit than in markets previously since we were in a tourist-dense portion of the Yao village. The attraction were the rice terraces, and their interest brought with them construction of up-scale hotels, trinkets for purchase, Coca-Cola in glass-door refrigerators, and expensive lychees. Not only did I not try to take down the price, I let the saleswoman sell me two units of lychees, rather than only the one which I had wanted.

Rice terraces

Walkway/roads, and construction project

When one lives a village of stairs, pairs of legs make much more sense as transportation than pairs of wheels. 

Two Yao women, mother and daughter, were negotiating with some potential
 buyers over the price of a textile the daughter had embroidered. 

These fruits were riper than the ones before, and were more difficult to peel since the inner membrane was more filled with juices and easier to break. The jewels successfully crossed the border into Hong Kong, but the remainders were unfortunately abandoned as they would not be allowed to travel back with me to the States, and probably wouldn’t keep as long.