A collection of musings about the tastes of some of my favorite fruits, including mangoes, pomelo and durian.
If durian is the king of fruits, mangosteen the queen, rambutan the prince, lychee the princess, and pineapple the duke, then by that logic, mango must be the grandest of grand duchesses. Selected in the 1980s and named R2E2, perhaps the pomologists were indulging in a bit too much Star Wars at the time of its founding, this mango variant is a rotund mass of firm juicy flesh, which is sweet but not drippingly so. The smell is something from Aphrodite’s garden; a mixture of fruity sweetness and floral powder, reminiscent of the fragrance Un Jardin Sur Le Nil by Hermès. It is among my favorite varieties of mangoes, and observing the color change as it ripens is as teasingly tantalizing as watching an exquisite burlesque.
Happiness to me is a tub of freshly cut up mangoes. It is a simple joy but a luxurious indulgence. On today’s fruit menu, and as the two-tone in the picture would suggest, is a mixture of two mango varieties, namely chok anan (light yellow) and maha chanok (light orange). Both smell and taste distinctly different. To wit, chok anan is a playful, honeyed fragrance, whereas maha chanok is a piquant extrait de parfum that engulfs its vicinity with a cloud of its fruit pheromones; trying a bit too hard to please the olfactory organs, and is equivalent to someone who has sprayed far too much cologne on their person.
For this reason, I much prefer the scent of R2E2 (no relation to R2-D2 from Star Wars), another mango variant which strikes a marvelous balance between subtlety and perfumery. In terms of texture, both mangoes were at the peak of their ripeness, and so were juicily firm, to the extent that one mango piece was so lubricated with its syrup, it actually slid from the fork and fell to the ground, skidding on the freshly mopped parquet floor about two paces from its point of first impact… I can laugh about it now.
Golden Pillow Durian
Eau de Durièn by Marché is an acquired smell, to be sure. Personally, I find Eau de Durièn by Marché (from the market) to be a most pleasing scent, sweet and heavy, divine and balmy. But as stated above, it depends on the nose. To some, it is Egyptian opium, to others, it is the stench of a Roman orgy. Touted as the “Emperor of Fruits,” a reputation earned by dint of appearing menacingly lethal, its husk is covered with piercing thorns, a hard shield to hide its soft heart. Speaking of which, the practice of breaking into a durian is an engrossing art to behold.
First, the butcher selects the ripest or most ready victim from a mountain pile of durians. This is achieved by whacking each husk in turn with a sort of riding whip, which will elicit a wincing reaction from most people save those into sadistic pleasures. The butcher then listens to the “responses” of each durian, the sound, apparently, capable of determining its stage of readiness. Satisfied with the noise one durian produces, the left hand, protected in a gardening glove, holds the durian in place on a weathered yet sturdy chopping board, while the right wields a gladius-size kitchen sword. The fruit is then hacked into wedges with sanguinary effort.
The gory part over, the butcher turns each wedge aside, and thus reveals the protective mold wherein snugs the familiar yellow cream flesh of the durian fruit. The whole process is akin to watching the dissection of a cocoon, whereby the silky case is sliced open, and tucked neatly inside is the pupa.
As for the texture and taste of durian, to the connoisseur, it is a sweet, custardy aphrodisiac, a gift from Dionysus. On the other hand, to them who view this infamous fruit with aristocratic disdain, it is an abomination, a poison concocted by the sorceress Medea intended for Jason, her unfaithful man. Personally, I like durian very much.
Evident from the dropping prices and rising deliciousness, cherry season has indubitably arrived. This is good news to all cherry gourmands, who for the past seasons have switched between cursing celestial orbits and swearing at the Greek gods for bringing about this lasting cherry famine. Appetites accrued over time, to a Dionysian rumble, it is thus not surprising to find connoisseurs enjoying them by the bucket, popping these exquisite drupes into their mouths as if they were seedless grapes, or popcorn. The Bing cherry is abundant and reliably good; deserving a plot in the orchards of the Elysian Fields, at the very least. It is a purplish-red cherry, firm to the point of producing a sounding crunch when bitten into. Its taste is sweet and a little tangy on the tongue. All of this is to say, enjoy these edible divinities whilst the season providentially allows it.
Long Laplae Durian
Durian is a delicious fruit that many people love to hate. The odor, they say, is bad; and the taste, they point out, is awful. Personally, I find the flavor to be the embodiment of joy and its fragrance perfume. To connoisseurs of this king of fruits, the following varieties will be familiar to their diets, including Golden Pillow (because its flesh is big and cushy), Gibbon (presumably the little apes like it), and Long Stem (named literally after its characteristic growth).
While all three spike bombs are fine fruits and can cost as much as good wine, to be sure, the champagne of durians is the Long Laplae variant, which is grown only in the ancient district of Laplae, in the mountainous region of Uttaradit province, where a history of planting and agreeable geographical conditions champion its cultivation. Indeed, the exorbitant price tag per kilogram of the select Long Laplae is, like most luxury goods, calculated based on the economics of narrative and exclusivity. But moving on. Its flesh is a sunny yellow and the smell is surprisingly subtle.
To further compare and highlight the distinctions, for example, while Golden Pillow is best enjoyed when crunchy on the outside and soft within, the Long Laplae is most exquisite when the flesh is uniformly soft, to the point that it melts on your tongue like a pat of butter on a stack of steaming pancakes. Aside from the more delicate texture that engenders a messier (but totally worth it) result, the taste of Long Laplae is sweeter and stronger, per square centimeter, than the three aforementioned cultivars. Nevertheless, as a true durian fan, I indulge in all varieties with the same ravenous gusto. J’adore d’rian!
Strawberries and Cherries
Imported strawberries and cherries were on sale the other day at an expensive supermarket in the mall. Having been on a diet of durian and mangoes for the past few weeks (indeed, very blasé to them now, so sad) my gut presently craved something on the tangy side of the fruit spectrum. Possessing a weak constitution, I gave into the demands of the stomach, and thus splurged on the discounted fruits with parsimonious reluctance; for even at half-price I would not consider such purchases a reasonable dietary investment.
With that in mind, they could not therefore be eaten straight out of the box, instead must be prepared and laid out in a manner befitting their station in the fruit hierarchy. So thinking, I organized them superfluously, with the meticulous care of a florist arranging a bouquet of exotic flowers from Madagascar and Peru; or the attentions a pastry chef in Paris might accord to his tower of macarons. Not to sound like a food presentation critic or anything like that, but methinks I made a plate worthy of being served on the banquet table at a party hosted by Madame de Pompadour in the Palace of Versailles. Just saying.
Grand display (deserving of high praise) aside, the strawberries were humongous, very much so; for usually I am able to pop them into my mouth as if eating popcorn. However with these extra large ones, it took like 2-3 bites per strawberry; an inconvenience to say the least. On top of that, they were firm and sour; more suited for making jam. And thus, I gave them the “meh” shoulder.
The cherries on the other hand, proved to be a better return on investment than the haughty strawberries. Crunchy and appropriately sweet, with a hint of tartness. They were as delicious as supermarket cherries will ever get. I approve.
Yellow lemons dangling resplendently like drops of crystals from a chandelier in the Palace of Versailles. This particular tree belongs in my grandmother’s garden; a beautiful sanctuary of healthy plants and redolent herbs, which she tends to with the dexterity and knowing of a seasoned agriculturalist. These richly yellow fruits have nutritional, as well as sentimental value. To wit, chilled lemonade during the warm summers of Western Australia, decadent tarts and cakes for afternoon tea with my grandparents’ old friends, sour and salty avocado slices after school, and grilled salmon with a drizzle of lemon juice for special dinners. Even the rind makes a garnished appearance in my grandfather’s famous sticky rice and mango recipe. So saying, it should come as no surprise to know that our family’s motto is:
“When life gives you lemons, make lemon meringue pie.”
Bought from the supermarket my mother did. Arranged and sealed it was ready to eat. Sweet and sour does the pomelo taste. Though more sour than sweet this batch was. A big fruit this is indeed. As big as a green balloon I imagine it to be. And I do believe that I just ate the equivalent of two. Tis true I must readily confess. Though healthy it should be. A sourness like that purports a great deal of vitamins a b and c. Mostly water within besides. So guilt I feel not.