Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mike-diary: On the Markets

Dispatches from Indochine

I have just eaten a durian.

For the morally correct among you, those who view your stomach as your servant and not your master, this statement will be meaningless. But from the gastronomes who read this there may be frank envy. You see, the durian is perhaps the most storied of produce. Large, spikey, it is a Jupiter among the tree-fruits. And like Jupiter it is the subject of many tales, such as the Indonesian train car that had to be abandoned when a bag of durian was forgotten aboard overnight, or the Indian couple whose marriage bonds withstood poverty, sickness and just plain time, only to be severed by the wife's implacable appetite for this most pungent of fruits. For the myths about durian touch upon its two primary powers; its tender flesh, compared to creme brulee, and its powerful odor.

Let me state that both of these myths, as is the usual property of all myths, are hooey. First, the smell. Imagine a mango and an onion fell deeply in love and decided to grow old together. Now imagine this greengrocer's romance occurred in a paper bag on your kitchen counter in August. If you were to part the seams of said bag and breathe in the coying rot of the mango and the acidic tingle of the onion, you would not be far off from knowing the durian. One smells it on the streets here. It is usually cut up in slices because it is a big fruit and really, a whole one is more than can be mastered by anyone. And while the smell is unpleasant, it is not hold-your-nose-and-run bad.

As to the flavor, that too has had over-vigorous marketing. The mango is not as rotten, there is a pleasant vanilla quality, and the onion just glowers a bit in the background. Certainly not the thing I would throw my wife over for.

A fine surprise was the pomello. This citrus looks for all the world like an orange who converted to the faith of the Old Order Amish. It is a Christmas tree green and one could be forgiven for not thinking it fully matriculated. But cut open the modest covering and you will see a vivid orange interior. I had the good fortune of having the hotel bartender press my bag of six pomello. It produced a precious small pitcher of the most beautiful-tasting juice. Similiar to grapefruit but less acidic, and with undertones unlike anything I've ever tasted. Why this delicious fellow is not widely available in the US is a mystery to me. Indian River Growers take note!

Longon fruit are a personal favorite. I've had them before and dearly love them. I would not consider too much of an affectation to travel to Indochine once a year just to have a plateful. They are like leche but easier to eat and more flavorful. They are known locally as "dragon's eyes" because of the black pit. You can walk into any tavern in Saigon and plop a kilogram of longon on the bar to share and be rewarded with an afternoon of stories, jests, and other entertainment.

I have had seedless mango for the first time. They are about the size of a goose's egg with thin skin and a very mangoey color. Perhaps it was the surroundings, perhaps it was the company, but I have never had a sweeter mango. There is a chitinous flat sheet instead of a pit and none of the typical hairy strands that make the mangos we usually get so toilsome. Because they bruise easily, I am sure they are poor travelers, and that is a loss to the wider world.

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Photograph courtesy of sxc.hu Nico van Diem of Gories, the Netherlands.

8 comments:

  1. I am trying to get back to e mode and am starting with you, miller and ajs (who else?). It seems from a first glance you are travellin! I must read on, especially on fruit exotic! I am trying to get a life back, been skiing, sailing and even playing tennis again so serious effort devoted to making the most of things. Elder daughter is marrying the writer (girl with glass feet) in May so doing what I am told towards that!

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  2. Hello, dear Robert--

    I hope the sculpting is going well, and that you are adjusting (can one?) to all of life's changes...

    And she is marrying her writer: sympathy! It's a funny lot.

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  3. THAT WAS NOT JIN! THAT WAS MARLY! JIN IS VISITING...

    Oh, I forgot to say--Mike is the one traveling at the moment, though I am going to Wales for a bit in May. A little more than a year back was Thailand and Cambodia, though...

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  4. Lovely post. We have most of those fruits here. People grow longon and I frequently pick up pomelo. Indeed, at the San Diego Zoo, they grow in the aviary, one of my favorite places. I always fear one will fall off a tree and wallop me. However, I have not had nerve enough to tackle the fearsome durian, available though they are in every Asian market.

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  5. He had some other fruits that we didn't get in Thailand or Cambodia--maybe I'll get him to add on!

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  6. Heh, heh - Glad to see Marly can rest easy. You're not about to ousted for a piece of Dorian Fruit.

    I love these windows on another world. Thank you!

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  7. Clare,

    Very amusing! I must say that I was rather wild for fruit when I was in Asia... But I don't think I would go quite that far.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.