One of the best regions in the world for fruit is in Southeast Asia. With ideal growing conditions and multiple harvesting periods, Southeast Asia has an abundance of beautifully looking and deliciously tasting fruit. The fruit doesn’t get any fresher than here, where it’s picked when ripened and sold in supermarkets and on the streets only hours later. There’s the usual recognizable fare of bananas, pineapples, mangos and coconuts. But as you explore the area, you’ll find yourself being drawn to fruits you’ve never seen before wondering what they could possibly be. We took it upon ourselves to seek out and taste-test all the different fruits in the region. We’ve broken them down for you with descriptions of what they taste like and how to eat them, and of course photographs to help you identify them. This is part one of a two part series on the fruits of Southeast Asia, so be sure to check back tomorrow for our follow up post.
These deep pink coloured fruits are about the size of a softball and are found in most parts of Southeast Asia. The name sounds exotic and they look like something out of prehistoric times, with small folds rippling out from the skin in a scaly manner.
What it tastes like: Dragonfruits don’t have an overly distinct flavour but are very refreshing to eat. They’re not too sweet and are similar to kiwi in taste. There are no pits in the centre and the little black seeds are edible. Occasionally you’ll come across a second variety of dragonfruit in Southeast Asia with a red interior instead of white. This variety is slightly sweeter.
How to eat it: It’s best to cut dragonfruit right in half, and then slice it into wedges after that. You can easily peel the skin back and bite right in.
Called the “King of Fruits” in Southeast Asia, it’s best known for being the stinkiest fruit in the world, as you’ll almost always smell them way before you see them. Most public places and guesthouses even ban the consumption of them due to the off-putting smell they emit. Sold on street corners all over Southeast Asia, durians have a hard pointy shell and a soft, mushy interior. They’ll range in size from 2 to 7 lbs and can be bought whole or in part.
What it tastes like: If you can get over the smell, you might be pleasantly surprised or completely grossed out by the flavour. Depends on your preferences. It’s a little sweet, with a milky-creamy texture, can have a bit of a sour flavour with hints of almond thrown in. Ripeness will greatly influence the flavour.
How to eat it: It’s best to have your durian opened from the person you’re purchasing it from, as it can be a taxing and messy process if you try it yourself. But if you’re adventurous and want to work for that fruit here’s how to open it: Using a long knife, make a deep cut about 10 inches vertically along the shell (but not all the way through). Then using your hands, pull apart the shell, splitting it into two parts. You may need the knife again to fully separate the two halves. Then scoop out the inner edible flesh and enjoy!
Note: This is a great fruit for those special photo moments!
As the name implies, this fruit is a bit of a hybrid between a guava and an apple. Bright green and looking exactly like a large pealed apple, this was one of my favourite fruits in Southeast Asia. Found only in parts of Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, it’s sometimes enjoyed dipped in a sugar and chili flake mixture.
What it tastes like: Guava apples are refreshing and taste very sweet, similar to an apple. The texture is just like a guava, being slightly softer than the texture of an apple.
How to eat it: You can buy guava apples either already cut up or in pre-packaged vacuumed sealed bags with 2-3 whole guava apples. If you buy them whole, use a knife to cut out a wedge piece from the fruit, avoiding the centre pit and cutting the fruit directly in half. Continue cutting the fruit into wedges by inserting the knife lengthwise and pushing it out away from you so the wedge piece breaks off from the core.
Note: After doing a little research online, I came across a bit of controversy surrounding the guava apple. There are claims that this hybrid fruit may actually pose a health risk if consumed due to artificial colouring used to give it that amazing green hue along with the fruit being soaked in sugar water to give it that sweet flavour.
When it comes to size, the jackfruit has everyone beat. Similar in colour and texture of a durian, the jackfruit can grow to a weight of 80lbs! Found mainly in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, you’re likely only going to purchase a small handful from the market, as a whole one could set you back a day or two’s budget.
What it tastes like: The texture is sticky and slightly crunchy, and has a sweet taste similar to that of a pineapple and banana mixed together.
How to eat it: If you buy it already shelled and cut up from the markets, just remove the big pit in the centre and eat away. There will be a bit of a sticky film on the meaty flesh, so make sure to wash your hands afterwards.
Sold on vine-hung bunches like grapes and looking more like mini-potatoes, long kong fruit is found in the lower regions of Southeast Asia. Easily confused with the longan fruit, long kong is covered by a thin, light-brown, peel-able skin, and contains translucent segments covering a hard inedible black pit.
What it tastes like: Long kongs are juicy, with a slightly sour and bitter taste, similar to a grapefruit, but leaving a nice sweet after taste.
How to eat it: Peel off the outer skin and remove the clear filmy coating as well. Then split the segments in half to remove the inner black pit.
One of the most popular Southeast Asian fruits, the lychee (pronounced LIE-chee) is found all over the region. Grown in bunches on vines, lychees are covered with a hairy, deep pink-red inedible rind, with a soft translucent fleshy interior.
What it tastes like: Lychees are sweet, juicy, and very delicious in my opinion, with a texture similar to a grape.
How to eat it: Hold a lychee between two hands with your thumbs placed in the middle, width-wise. Push your thumbs down into the rind and slowly pull apart so one half of the rind pops off. Pull out the fleshy interior. You will notice at one end where the rind would have connected, is a small indent exposing part of the pit. Again with your thumbs, separate the fleshy interior and remove the inner pit. Subsequently, you could just remove the fleshy interior, pop it into your mouth and chew around the pit.
Check back again tomorrow for part 2 in our series of fruits in Southeast Asia!