tropical fruits (photo taken by Katherina Liu Pengyu)
Winter seems to be a thing of the past as the Chinese New Year holiday recently drew to an end. While many preferred to take temporary refuge from Hong Kong’s chilly winds in equatorial Southeast Asian countries, places like Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand have so much more to offer other than warm rays and paradisiac beaches.
One thing you just cannot miss there is some rather weirdly looking tropical fruits that’ll for sure rock your taste buds. And if you are now eyeing a couple of specific tropical islands for the coming holidays in March (let’s not pretend anyone would take Reading Week in its literal sense), April or May (there’ll always be those lucky ones who would finish their exams way too early), this is your guide to spot the five fruits that bear the promise to complete your ultimate travel experience.
So stop looking for durians all the time like an amateur and treat yourself some genuine local delights!
passion fruits (photo taken by Lexie Ma Xiaochi with assistance of Katherina Liu Pengyu)
1. Passion Fruit (In Chinese: 西番蓮、百香果、熱情果、雞蛋果)
Pardon its unappealing purple shell that much resembles a hand-grenade, but the minute it reveals its insides to you, your nostrils are in for a ride with its refreshingly fruity perfume. Many have had passion fruit-flavored cocktails (or mocktails if you are under 18), cheesecakes and stuff, but few have tried the fruit itself. Its characteristically tart yellow juice and crunchy black seeds instantly fill your mouth with an alcoholic aroma, but beware of its strong acidity that may send your tongue into momentary unconsciousness on the first try.
The conventional way of eating a passion fruit is to split it into halves and spoon its content out for direct consumption, but I’ve learnt something way cooler from a street vendor. Just puncture its shell with something sharp, stick a straw right through the hole and violà! One trick to enjoy the prime passion fruit taste? Always pick those with shriveled shells because that’s an indication of ripeness. Plump shells may appear more photogenic, but they hardly guarantee the right mix of sourness and sweetness.
The fruit is rich in a variety of antioxidants and Vitamin C. See more on its nutrition facts and health benefits.
sugar apples (photo taken by Lexie Ma Xiaochi with assistance of Katherina Liu Pengyu)
2. Sugar Apple (In Chinese: 番荔枝、釋迦果、佛頭果)
While its English name befits its off-the-charts sweetness, its Chinese name “sakya” bewildered me for a long time before I finally got to see the fruit as a whole. Its pale green rind is generally spherical and made up of knobby segments as if taking the shape of the top part of Shakyamuni’s head as represented in various Buddha figures. To think you are running a knife through that! So let’s fast-forward this. The fruit’s cream-color flesh lets out a uniquely fragrant scent and its soft and grainy texture shares similarities with custard, hence its other name “custard apple”.
Most people just eat it like they would any other regular fruit, but I’ve used a juice blender to make some sugar apple milk shake once and the taste was absolutely divine! So try it! Though the multiple black seeds embedded within the flesh can be mildly toxic when ingested by human bodies and may cause potential abortions, they prove to be effective insect repellents, pesticides and head lice treatment. However, freshness doesn’t usually go well with taste in the case of sugar apples. Get them in a wet market, leave them to ripen for a few days before their rinds turn brown and get your taste buds ready for an authentic tropical adventure!
Sugar apples are an incredible source of manganese and Vitamin C. See more on its nutrition facts and health benefits.
star fruits (photo taken by Lexie Ma Xiaochi with assistance of Katherina Liu Pengyu)
3. Star Fruit (In Chinese: 楊桃)
What’s so amazing about the star fruit is its shape rather than taste. Though the name is pretty self-explanatory, slicing it into little yellowish “stars” so pleasant to watch is still plenty of fun. Unlike passion fruits and sugar apples, star fruits don’t have a typically recognizable smell or flavor for people to associate them with as they contain low levels of sugar and acid, but their high water content positions them as the ideal hydrating fruit especially under tropical weather.
Some say star fruits taste like a blend of papayas and grapefruits or a mix of pineapples and lemons, while others compare their crunchiness and wateriness with those of snow pears. I guess the fruit’s flavor can be a little nebulous, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying it! The “stars” would totally brighten up an otherwise dull-looking salad or add a touch of cuteness as the decoration for a fruit punch.
The fruit is rich in antioxidants, potassium and Vitamin C, nevertheless the caramboxin and oxalic acid found in it may do harm to people suffering from kidney problems. See more on its nutrition facts and health benefits.
wax apples (photo taken by Lexie Ma Xiaochi with assistance of Katherina Liu Pengyu)
4. Wax Apple (In Chinese: 蓮霧、水蓊、爪哇蒲桃)
To be honest, wax apples only resemble apples in appearance while taste more like snow pears. The fruit may fool you with its plump red skin and crisp white flesh, but it actually lacks certain “personality” in terms of fragrance. As with a star fruit, a wax apple has its own signature shape – a bell, yet is sort of plain in its flavor – only a teensy bit sugary. Its flesh gives a cottony watermelon-like moist texture which will quench your thirst in just a bite.
Given its Chinese name which literally means “lotus fog” – a beautifully Zen touch, I assumed some rather romantic stories behind its nomenclature before it turned out that it was simply the Hokkien transliteration for “jambu” – the Indonesian term for the fruit when the Dutch first introduced it to Taiwan in the 17th century. There aren’t many fancy ways to eat a wax apple except for making a fruit salad or an assorted jam when combined with tangy ingredients such as dragon fruits and pineapples. In other words, you should probably just rinse it and eat it – the old-fashioned way.
It provides rich Vitamin C, dietary fiber and calcium. See more on its nutrition facts and health benefits.
red-fleshed dragon fruits (photo sourced from huaguoshan)
5. Red-Fleshed Dragon Fruit (In Chinese: 紅心火龍果)
Rumor has it that a red-fleshed dragon fruit is a rare gem that no regular dragon fruit is able to compare with. Rumor also has it that eating too many red-fleshed dragon fruits makes you pee in pink. Caught between the enticement and the cautionary tale, I suggest you moderate the amount of consumption, that is, if you can. The fruit’s iconic fiery red insides result from betalains – the reddish pigments commonly found in beets, which also bestow it with irresistible sweetness.
Some report that its taste resembles a mix of kiwi fruits and watermelons. The soft and juicy flesh may tint your lips or stain your tee, but it will also pamper your taste buds together with the tens of thousands of sesame-like seeds scattered within it. I would say putting it into a juicer would be a huge waste as your tongue would miss out on the crunchy seeds bit and its naturally high sugar content requires no other ingredients to compensate for its flavor. Cutting it into halves and scooping yourself a chunk of red delight seems like the perfect method after all!
The red-fleshed dragon fruit usually costs more than its regular counterpart since it’s richer in antioxidants, Vitamin C and soluble fiber. See more on its nutrition facts and health benefits.
Up to this point, I’m pretty much done bombarding you with all those mouth-watering descriptions and alluring pics. The best part? You don’t have to pick a fav. Next time you are on a tropical island for vacation, start fruit-binging!