One great thing about exploring new destinations is trying the food! Some of the fruit you’ll find in SE Asia may not be new to you as they are exported worldwide – but it’s great trying them at the source. You’ll find fresh markets and fruit vendors all over, so there’s no excuse not to try some of the lesser known fruits, and a great way to stay healthy while travelling too.
Durian. Let’s start with the ‘king of fruits’ as it’s known. This is one you’ll either love or hate. If you’ve ever smelled it, you will remember it! It has an odour so pungent and like no other that many hotels and airlines ban it. Yet, it’s considered a delicacy and locals will offer it to you with great pride – try to hide the look on your face when you taste it! Apparently the taste grows on you – if you’re prepared to try it again after the first go.
Tamarind. With its sweet, sour, tangy flavour, tamarind is used to flavour both sweet and savoury dishes in SE Asia. It has a date-like texture and is crushed to make a tamarind paste or concentrate, which is extracted from the crescent-shaped pods of the tree. Tamarind paste gives ‘phad thai’ its distinctive taste.
Pomelo. A large citrus fruit with a rind thicker than a grapefruit, yet not as sour as a grapefruit. The large cells are pulled out of the segments to make a delicious pomelo salad. They are refreshing on a hot day and a must try when in SE Asia.
Mango. The Asian mango looks a bit different to mangoes in other parts of the world. They are longer with pointed ends, and a pale yellow skin. But inside… the sweetest and best mango flavour, and not stringy like some other mango varieties. The mango can be eaten ripe and sweet, or green, dipped in a chilli sugar. It’s used in many SE Asia desserts, including the well-known mango and sticky rice.
Coconut. It is so versatile: drink a young coconut, ice cold is best, or snack on the hardened flesh of a mature coconut. Coconut milk forms the base of many Asian curries and sauces, and it’s flesh and milk is used to make various desserts.
Rambutan. This pretty fruit doesn’t just jazz up a fruit bowl but is delicious too. Being from the same family as a litchi, the taste is similar, but the flesh is firmer and they’re easier to peel.
Longan. Also from the same family as a rambutan and litchi, but perhaps not as pretty. Don’t let the nondescript exterior fool you – inside you’ll find sweet, juicy goodness.
Mangosteen. This bright purple hard exterior holds a soft, white juicy and sweet pulp in segments. High in antioxidants and vitamin C, it’s a local immune booster.
Papaya. Also known as pawpaw in the west, this delicious fragrantly sweet fruit is a great addition to any fruit salad. It is also used in its hard, green form to make papaya salad, a classic Thai dish.
Pineapple. A more common fruit, but again a must try, as the SE Asian varieties are tasty and sweet, make excellent fruit shakes, and can be bought ready-cut from mobile fruit vendors.
Bananas. You’ll find so many more varieties in SE Asia, including tiny finger-like bananas that are the perfect ‘on-the-go’ healthy snack. Banana shakes are delicious, and they are also used in many desserts.
Rose apples. Known as ‘chompoo’ in Thailand, which means ‘pink’, the texture is somewhere between a watermelon and an apple, as is the subtle taste.
Dragon fruit. This peculiar looking fruit that does indeed resemble a dragon, grows on a jungle cactus. The bright pink and green exterior holds a soft flesh, dispersed with tiny seeds, similar in texture and taste to a kiwi fruit. The inside can either be white or deep purple.
Watermelon. Grown year-round in SE Asia, this is a staple on the fruit platter and is deliciously refreshing on a hot day, a great way to rehydrate, either eating a juicy slice, or as an icy fruit shake.
Custard apple. The fruit inside has up to about 30 or more black, hard seeds surrounded by sweet scented milky and creamy segments with a delicious flavour, something like taste of a ripe soft pear mixed with custard but sweeter.
Sapodilla. A thin potato-like skin hides a soft, sweet, honey-coloured flesh surrounding a hard pip.
You’ll find many more fruits in SE Asia, some are seasonal and some can be found year-round. Don’t be scared to try them all at least once – you may just discover your new favourite fruit!