Fruits of the season

 

They come in different shapes, sizes and colors Instead of a slice of pine apple, why not try a mangosteen? Opt for papaya over watermelon for a change. Rather than a regular banana, seek out a durian or jackfruit.


Then, of course, there’s rambutan, jackfruit, longan and so much more, depending on the season. During summer, markets in Thailand brim with different kinds of fruits that come in several shapes, sizes and colors. Mangosteen is readily available from April to September, with price getting lower as the season progresses.

One world of caution when eating mangosteen: the purple skin tends to stain everything it comes in contact with.a Also abundant during the same period is rambutan. Of all the Thai fruits, the rambutan is arguably the most curious looking. The egg shaped fruit has a red skin with dozens of wiry green tendrils. The other Thai fruit known for it size, but more so for its smell, is durian. From May to July, an informal battle rages across the country. On one side are those who love durian, proclaiming it as the king of fruits. On the other side are those who hate everything about the pungent smelling fruit.

Papaya is another fruit with a curious taste. In fact, many people squeeze a bit of lime juice over it to help offset the bitter flavor. It contains lots of vitamin C and is easily identified by its dark green skin and deep orange flesh. Classified as a large berry, the fruit reaches an average weight of two pounds. Because of a natural digestive enzyme, papaya is often used as a meat tenderizer, and is a good for upset stomach. In Chiang Mai, strawberries are in season from December through February. They are available from street sellers and supermarkets all around the city.

The pleasant winter climate in the mountains is akin to the summer in northern Europe (without the rain) and provides the perfect environment for cultivating strawberries. They are expensive by the standards of what you usually pay for fruit in Thailand, but at as low as $1 a kilo they’re still a bargain. Many other fruits, both familiar and unfamiliar, are available in Thailand year round. Don’t be afraid to do a little experimenting. You’ll be glad you did.

 

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Exotic and sensual lychee

p16The aromatic lychee was brought into Thailand by Chinese migrants during the 17 century from its home in southern China, where it has been cultivated for thousands of years. Closely related to the rambutan and longan, it growns in clusters on a small evergreen tree (normally around 10 meters tall) that is covered in thick green foliage. In Thailand, 20 varieties of lychees are cultivated.

p15Three of these are popular exports – the “Hong Huai,” oval shaped with a brittle, yellowish- pinky-red skin that taste sweet and slightly sour; the “Kim-Cheng,” globular with a small seed and a bright red skin with flesh that taste very sweet, and the “Chakraphat,” (emperor), large and globular shaped with a bright red skin and very sweet taste. The sweet flesh of the fruit serves as cover to an egg-shaped, chestnut-like seed. The lychee season – from April to June – is eagerly awaited in Thailand, and no small amount of money is paid to secure that best fruit.

At the end of the season, many lychee gourmets travel to Chiang Mai where the price is generally cheaper. The fruit is popularly used in desserts such as chilled lychees with coconut custard, or lychees in sweet syrup, or coconut milk and crushed ice. The lychee is not only an exotic fruit, it is also a sensual one.

It is hardly surprising that an early Chinese book written around the 11th century was about lychee, also known as Chinese nuts and taste a little like raisins. In western cooking, lychees will add a touch of excitement to fruit and savory salads, meats and all types of desserts such as poached lychee in wine or syrup, cakes, pudding, pancake and mousses. It may also be bottled, pickled or made into a preserve.

Lychee complements fish very well and can be used to make sweet and sour sauce for pork or chicken. It may be added to stir-fried dishes and meat or fish pates or used to make an accompanying sauce. Lychees are among Thailand’s leading economic crops. Cultivation is steadily grown and market potential is great, as the fruit can be transported over long distances without losing itsp14

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Exquisite Edible Sculptures

Why could anyone bother to carefully fashion an ordinary papaya or pumpkin into a bouquet of flowers or a carrot into a rare orchid when they are to be eaten just the same? The answer lies in the Thais’ love for art backed by an oversupply of time and patience.

And more importantly, in Thai culture, form is often as important as substance. Appearance at all levels of society is important in this country. And it can be seen even in the preparation of food. As an art, fruit – or vegetable – carving would have not flourished better than in Old Siam, a country over-abundant with food, where people lived uncomplicated lives, were known for their limitless patience and had plenty of time to spare. Historians say the art began in 1364 when a certain Nang Noppamas decorated a floating lamp for the royal Festival on the night of the full moon of the 12th month of that year.

She carved fruits and vegetables to make them look like flowers and used them to decorate the floating lamp. The King, Phra Ruang, was impressed by the sculpted fruits and vegetables that he later decreed that such a skill, locally known as “Kae Sa Lak,” be encouraged among Thai women, particularly those in the royal household. Some of the most skilled practitioners of fruit and vegetable carving now work for up market hotels and restaurants. Buffet tables in the country’s best hotels are repositories of some of the finest examples of this art.

A watermelon cut into an elaborate basket to hold a m lange of fruits is a favorite item, as are centerpieces made from intricately carved pumpkins. In classical Thai restaurants, platters of food always arrive at the table with some sort of carved decoration. These range from simple flowers made from chili peppers to elaborate blossoms fashioned from carrots and white radishes. Next time you visit a Thai restaurant, take the time to appreciate the food’s visual appeal before enjoying its good taste. To Thais, food should feed not only the stomach but also the eyes.

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