Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Weird food


Rambutans
What is most fun for me about traveling is trying new food, and new food combinations. In the local market some very strange hairy fruits are sold, called Rambutans. A couple months ago I passed by a young man with a wheeled cart full of hairy berries. They look like Ogalala strawberries, with soft spines. He opened one and inside was a white fruit with a squeeky bite. It was a lychee! I know lychees from the canned version served in Chinese restaurants. It tasted like a lychee but then again, not quite. So I thought the canning process added more sugar or something to account for the less sweet taste. And that "Rambutan" was the Mexican word for Lychee, even though it didn't sound at all Spanish.

Wrong on both accounts. It didn't taste like a lychee.....because it wasn't. It's related, and in the same family, but not the same thing. So today in the market, a man was selling the hairy Rambutans and a smaller nut-looking thing with bumpy brown skin which he called a Lychee. I bought a quarter kilo of each and brought them home. Inside the fruits look almost identical, but the seeds are quite different. The Rambutan seed is larger, softer, and cream colored, while the Lychee seed is shiny black. A taste of the Lychee leaves no doubt what it is, the canning process does not detract at all from its delightful flavor. The Rambutan is similar but milder and not as sweet.

At the Mercado Organico, I purchased some strange looking fruits and the woman told me the name, but I promptly forgot because I didn't write it down. I always assume someone else will be able to tell me, but back home Margarita said she vaguely recalled having once eaten something like it and didn't know the name. Pasqual the gardener had no clue whatsoever, and neither did Clara, the woman who comes to clean once a week.

Un-named fruit
I took photos, opened the fruits up and discovered they are filled with seeds, each one in it's own little fruity sack, like a pomegranite. It looks like a small squash in the shape of a banana, the skin is baby-face-furry, and the flavor is clearly fruit-like but sour and tart. The seeds are black and hard so I put the interiors of those fruits in the blender with some water and whizzed the seeds out of their fruity sacks. Fortunately the blades didn't tear up the seeds and it was easily strained. A little sugar added made a decent "liquado". We also had two of those mealy red bananas that have such intense flavor, so I added those and the juice of one lime to keep it from turning black. It became an excellent liquado.

Also sold in the market are small baskets of what look like fried rolly polly bugs. A photographer friend actually bought some and said they are giant flying ants. At the beginning of the rainy season, the flying ants come out to mate and swarm under street lights. The locals catch them in nets and then roast them on a comal, a large ceramic plate over a wood fire, the same comal they use to cook tortillas. It's a seasonal delicacy that I'm glad Jon tried and not me. He ate a few, just to say he did, but wasn't smitten. The only insect I've ever eaten that I would eat again, any time, are chocolate covered bees. Here in Chiapas, the birthplace of chocolate you'd think I could find some, but alas.

Close up of strange fruit

And of course the avocados. They're hardly weird, but there is one really weird variety. I am guessing, probably wrong again, that it's the ancestral avocado, before human beings took over and modified them. The big fat almost black bumpy avocados here are the best in the world. They are softly ripe and have relatively small seeds, so only one or two yields an enormous amount of guacamole. But in the market I saw a bumpy brown and green avocado, twice the size of the black ones, shaped like a crook neck yellow squash. I asked the seller if it had a large seed and she nodded. They were so cheap I went ahead and bought four. She wasn't kidding. The seed was as big as my hand and the avocado meat was a thin stringy ring around it. All of which might have been forgivable but they had only the faintest flavor, and two of them were black rotted.

Into the compost with those awful things!



(Post note - a few days later:  I asked my Spanish teacher who seems to be quite knowledgeable about everything if she'd ever heard of a fruit matching the description of the mystery one. She said maybe it's a maracuya. So good 'ol Wikipedia had several entries for different types of passion fruits, one of which was banana maracuja. They showed other Maracuya's, and I knew those as granaditas. They go by a dozen names throughout the world, including granadilla, which is close to what they call it here. So mystery solved. One more chink in the cultural jigsaw puzzle down, a million to go.)


Such odd shapes for avocados

Bizarre avocados with huge seeds and
almost no meat









The un-named fruit before cutting,
about 4 inches long (9-10 cm)