Sunday, August 12, 2007

Self-portrait with Mangosteens

This blog is in danger of becoming a food blog. Which would be a bad thing because we already have a favourite food blog and we wouldn't want to compete, even if we could. But we promised to report on the mangosteens, spotted in Chinatown last week. Little did we know that in our former home these items would until recently have been considered contraband; and even now, to the extent that they are available, cost $10 each. But we've noticed that in New York there is a tendency to pump prices up as a form of circular self-regard: if it costs more, it's better; and I'm better because I paid $10 for a piece of fruit. Meanwhile, the Chinatown markets have also begun displaying rambutans, another Asian fruit we'd never seen before. Winnifred coveted a bunch for purely visual reasons. She thought they'd be fun to photograph. I have no information on the availability or price of rambutans south of the border or east of the Rockies.
The Seasonal Asian Fruit Taste Test

Cousin Mark arrived yesterday on a short visit, so the three of us sat down today with mangosteens, rambutans and lychees (for comparison), and began the taste test.
Research revealed the proper way to open a mangosteen:
first by cutting all the way around the shell with a serrated knife,
then by pulling the bottom half away
to reveal the white flesh inside.
I was surprised by how thick the shell was. I also loved the lipsticky streaks it left on the knife.
It's not that easy to pry the segments out. They're delicate and sort of dissolve as you touch them. But that quality seems to be what lends it the most divine texture in your mouth. And the taste... what can I say about the taste. "Like the freshness of spring," Cousin Mark said. It's sweet in the way a fruity white wine is sweet. None of us have ever had a piece of fruit quite like it.
Next we moved on to the rambutans. The process for opening them was similar but much less time-consuming.
The apparent "spikes" are pliable and gradually soften and darken as the fruit ripens. The skin is thin and opens easily to reveal an egg-like fruit inside.

You chew the flesh away from the stone inside, like a lychee. The flesh is firm but smooth, lightly sweet and very, very juicy.
In fact, it turns out the rambutan is a cousin of the lychee. We ate a good number of lychees, but taking them as common we didn't bother to document it. I now realize that our New York friends might not find lychees as everyday as we do. The way you eat them is by peeling them by hand and popping the whole fruit in your mouth, then spitting out the seed.
The final tally

Winnifred and Cousin Mark both liked the mangosteen best, followed by the rambutan, with the lychee bringing up the rear. "And this is not to imply that I don't like lychee," Cousin Mark pointed out. I, on the other hand, have never been overly fond of lychee, but I liked it's relative the rambutan even better than the heavenly mangosteen. Cousin Mark felt that the rambutan is subtler than the lychee: in a lychee you taste rose, whereas the rambutan is a bit nutty. Winnifred describes the lychee as just as sweet as the rambutan, but more cloying. For photographic purposes, Winnifred ended up liking the mangosteen better than the rambutan; Cousin Mark, from a purely aesthetic point of view, put the rambutan above the mangosteen. I myself am torn between the soft, sparse hairs on the rambutan, tenderly curling in their variegated colours, like an old lady's dyed hair with the roots showing; and the purple solidity of the mangosteen shell which lives in apposition to the ethereal white fruit inside. Even the bumpy brownness of the lychee husk and the smoothness of the dark nut you spit out at the end have a certain hold on me.

When I looked a bit further into the relationship between the rambutan and the lychee, I was surprised they weren't more closely related. Apparently they are in separate genera in the sapindaceae family. They are as far apart from each other as they both are from the maple tree and the soapberry. I ate another one of each with this in mind, and I fancy I can discern a trace of the taste of maple syrup. I think the lychee is beginning to grow on me.

Total cost of the Seasonal Asian Fruit Taste Test was $26 for four mangosteens, one large bunch of rambutans and a small bunch of lychees. But at less than the cost of a movie for the three of us, it provided at least as much entertainment.


Javier Hernandez-Miyares said...

Mangosteen sounds like the last name of a cuban-jewish family. i love your blog.

FJ said...

A Cuban-Jewish family, that would be us, right? I love your blog too, so we're even! Give my best to the co-conspirators.

the chocolate lady מרת שאקאלאד said...

More food blogs is always good news!

the chocolate lady מרת שאקאלאד said...

We've got lychees and rambutans in New York--I tried rambutans for the first time last year at rosheshone. I like to serve them half-peeled, so that the glistening fruit is showing, but you can still see the wild and spiky husk.

Haven't yet sprung for a mangosteen. I imagine the price will have to come down soon.

Javier Hernandez-Miyares said...

i will tell my co-conspirator that you send her your best.

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