Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Fruits of Cambodia

sliced dragon fruit (with bananas and pineapple)

One of the treats of any trip to Southeast Asia is the variety of delicious tropical fruits. I've found that hotels usually offer a number of fruits with breakfast, and markets are great for discovering new fruits and revisiting old favorites.

Dragon fruit is especially abundant in Cambodia. I don't think I'd ever had it before. In the photo immediately above it's the large reddish fruit with the skin that has what look like flower petals. The fruit inside is white speckeled with black seeds (see top), and has a watermelon-like texture.

The brown fruits in the front of the photo above may be rare outside of Cambodia, as they're known as Kampuchea Gam (or Mkam, depending on who you ask how it should be spelled). It has a very spiky shell and a fruit inside that's medium-sweet but not too juicy--more of a chestnut-like consistency.

rambutan

mangosteen

More familiar to me from prior visits to the region are the rambutan and the mangosteen. Rambutans have a spiky red exterior that one peels off to reveal a juicy, aromatic white fruit that is very similar to a lychee.

The mangosteen is one of the great fruits of Southeast Asia. From the outside it doesn't look like much. It's a roundish thing, the size of a small apple, with a brown/eggplant-colored coating, and directly inside there's an inedible red cork-like layer protecting the prize in the center, a white fruit in sections that has a wonderfully sensual consistency when you suck it out of its vessel, and a delightful sweet-tart flavor balance.

Pineapples, papayas, mangos, bananas, lychees and longans are abundant too, as is passion fruit, the latter usually served as a juice. I can think of no better way to use passion fruit juice than in a passion fruit & mint caipiroska as served at the bar of the FCC (Foreign Correspondents' Club) in Phnom Penh.

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