Sight - Magical tropical fruits

Sight - Magical tropical fruits

By
Chui Lee Luk
Contains
4 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742702407
Photographer
Chris Chen

This is a tale of expectations based on appearances. I wonder where you might be reading what I’ve written? Wherever it is, I hope you’ve encountered the fruits of the tropics, which I’ve always viewed as magical forms.

In my early attempts to rationalise, tropical fruits fell into several groups. There were the visually stunning, such as the rambutans: vivid red globes, possessing spikes that looked threatening but proved to be an illusory self-defence mechanism (more like hairs, welcoming and nice to the touch). And the terribly plain, such as the langsat with its dull, dun-coloured skin. And those fruits that appeared armour-plated: the durian, jackfruit or tarap. Spiky or dimpled, these were misshapen, like balloons that had been wrongly blown up because of a manufacturer’s mistake.

We would come across these fruits in great abundance when they were in season, piled high at the specialist market stalls. The leader of our expedition to seek them out (perhaps my mother or father, or a grandparent, aunt or uncle — an aficionado or self-designated expert of that particular fruit) would negotiate to obtain what, in their opinion, was the best available product and exchange advice on eating and storing. Abundance and overindulgence are also abiding memories of these favourite fruits. How, otherwise, would I have come to know the intimate details of each one?

Then there were the fruits whose symmetry elevated them to objects of elegance, such as the yellow and green star fruit, or pink or green rose apples. I was less excited by the sight of these. We were presented star fruits sliced in cross-section to reveal a five-pronged star shape with seeded innards. The rose apple had a similarly objective beauty. Their perfection rather bored me. It was echoed in the rather unexciting taste; there was no adventure involved to provoke the imagination of my curious self. So, it seems, appearance does count for something: it potentially holds my imagination in thrall.

It was probably one of my parents who patiently taught my sister and me how to extract a tasty reward from various small fruits; how to peel away the delicate skin of the langsat to reveal the segments of translucent white flesh that sometimes encased a large seed; that sap from the skin, and not just juice, was likely to make our fingers sticky. We were taught to pinch the rambutan shell hard so that it would puncture, and crack away the red casing before feasting on the, again, translucently delicate white flesh. The mangosteen, by far my favourite of the small fruits, was, I realised, structurally an amalgam of the rambutan and langsat. Its purple-black shell was eased open in the same way as the rambutan’s and the creamy white flesh was already divided into segments.

The most exciting way to eat would be in a session devoted entirely to indulging in one prized large fruit. There was a certain ceremony associated with this process, if we were lucky enough to source the thing in the first place. Newspapers were laid out over the small, flecked blue tiles in the kitchen and one of those large round wooden chopping boards was set down upon the newspaper. Then, father or uncle would cleaver open a durian, jackfruit or tarap (these exaggerated actions seemed to reflect the larger than life nature of the fruit and paralleled the oversized proportions of the trees on which they grew). Revealed inside were pods of seeds encased by succulent sweet flesh: creamy in texture with a unique stink in the case of the durian, crunchy and thinly sweet for the jackfruit and creamy tasting with a resinous perfume in the case of the tarap. Perhaps you can guess from this which was my favourite?

Now, I wonder how I have completely overlooked one of the most important fruits of my early years, the mango. Perhaps because I’m not sure how it would be categorised according to my early classification system? Or maybe, subconsciously, I don’t want to trespass on another’s territory, for mangoes are my father’s favourite. Numerous trees grew in the garden where his parents lived. They stood in an untidy fashion in a long avenue, their trunks often stained with sap and their branches hung with aerial orchids. The mystery surrounding mangoes was increased by the fact that they were wrapped in brown paper as soon as they were noticed, the paper-bag fruit attached to the main tree by exaggeratedly long stems.

Someone, most likely my father or grandfather, would sniff and prod the bags every day for signs of growth until it was determined that the mangoes were mature enough to be eaten, or until they fell from the tree of their own will. The mangoes of those days were green skinned, elliptical and eaten relatively unripe — resinous sweetness balanced with a sour tang was favoured as a taste. And if, for some unfortunate reason, a mango fell before it was sufficiently matured, there was a solution for that: incorporation in a snack.

Recipes in this Chapter

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