Delicious Chinese Fruit That Westerners Should Try
What's This All About?
You mean you can't tell from the title? Just kidding.
My initial trips to the fruit and vegetable stalls, markets, and supermarkets in China were nothing short of amazing.
I was greeted with an amazing cornucopia of smells, colours, shapes, and tastes. It was bewildering, but in a totally good way.
I've shared a few of my favourites, in addition to adding the Chinese name on some headings so you can show off to your friends.
Sweet Pitaya (Dragon Fruit)
Huolong Guo (Dragon Fruit)
I wasn't sure what to expect when one of my kind and generous students gifted me with a bag of dragon fruit. I'd had only been in China for a short time and had never seen one before. How did I eat it and what exactly what was it?
Since that time, I've come to love the red-skinned dragon fruit that's common in China. A yellow-skinned version is common in other Asian countries. I love the way that my knife slices through the soft inner as if it were gliding through butter after I've peeled the thick and slightly rubbery outer layer. It also seems to melt on my tongue, the fruit, not the knife.
Dragon fruit's extremely versatile. I've eaten it alone, juiced it with greens, diced it, and put in a glass of sweet alcopop. Other times, I just admire it's rich, red beauty and unique leaf shape.
Is it tasty, you ask? Is grass green, I reply.
Hold Your Nose...
Liulian (Durian Fruit)
...because you'll smell it before you see it. 'Pungent' and 'pongy,' along with 'what on earth is that stink,' are some of the more widely heard phrases when referring to Durian fruit—and believe me, they're not lying or exaggerating.
Originally from Malaysia and Indonesia, the spiky, peeled fruit has a tough outer husk and a soft, creamy yellow inner. It can be made into ice cream, which seems to dull the smell, and it can also be enjoyed cut into pieces.
It's been banned from many public places, again because it has such a strong smell, sorry to harp on about it, but if you've ever been in the vicinity, you'll know what I mean. It doesn't smell like a fruit at all. No citrus tones, or anything. To be honest, it reminds me of something that's been languishing in a rubbish bin.
That aside, its creamy smoothness is enjoyable, a small piece at a time.
Zhongguo Ganlan (Chinese Olives)
Chinese olives share nothing more than a name with their Western olive counterparts. Chinese olives look and taste very different. They also come in a greater variety of colours, such as red and yellow, in addition to the green and black which we're used to in Europe and North America.
In terms of size, they're like bigger and badder older siblings to their western cousins with thicker (often crisper) skins that some people will eat, while others prefer not to. The skins are wrinkled, kind of like prunes.
Flavours can range from one extreme to the other: tart to sweet. This, of course, affects how and when they're eaten.
I've tried these a few times along with other fruits and didn't find them particularly memorable, but they are versatile and can be used in preserving meat or seafood, can be dried and paired with herbs, and also eaten as an accompaniment to cheese.
In some parts of China, they may be used in medicine too.
Shanzhu, Queen of Fruit (if you're posh), or Mangosteen
I love this name Mangosteen. It has a lovely ring to it even though it's not as regal as it's lesser known counterpart, Queen of Fruit.
Originally from Malaysia, it's kind of garlic shaped, but not garlic tasting—thank goodness! Could you imagine?—and has a bit of a sweet and sour taste.
With it's high price tag, it's not really your common or garden fruit. It's expensive because it takes so long for the trees to bear fruit after planting; 10 years, no less.
Finally, it's rich in nutrients and very, very succulent.
Chinese Sugar Apple / Custard Apple
Tang Pingguo (Chinese Sugar Apple)
Also known as 'Bull's Heart,' these fruits are sweet, thick, and a little bit squishy, hence the attached tag of 'custard.'
The outside looks a variation of an unripe pine cone made of thick green peel. But, as with a lot of fruit, the inside is where the treasure lies. Bite into one, and you'll experience an unusual combination of sweet flavour and a grainy texture. Couldn't invent that if you tried, right?
Don't eat the seed and check for ripeness before you dig in because it's generally sold just before ripening. If you like to accessorize your fruit (and who doesn't?) with other fruits or foods in your kitchen, you can also find varieties of Tang Pingguo in pink, purple, and bright red.
It's great for juicing, baby food, snacking, making jam, and whatever else your imagination leads you to. Some people even pair it with meat, but personally speaking, I think that's just too weird.
Suan Jiang Guoshi (Physalis Fruit)
With a similar texture to a tiny tomato, pyhsalis fruit offer a bit of a surprise when you bite into them, mainly because they feel like a tomato on your tongue, but they taste more like orange. I don't think anyone could have predicted that from these orange and yellow fruits.
The closest western equivalent is probably gooseberry, but even then they're not identical; although, just like gooseberries, physalis are great for pies and jams.
I like them best raw. Once you tear off the crispy brown leaves and wash them, they're great to nibble on for a healthy snack.
Chinese Litchi - Rambutan
Rambutan (Lizhi or Lychee)
Ah, the glorious lychee! As soon as I cracked open the luxuriant red and green peel, a spark of recognition rose within me.
They taste the same as western lychees. Juicy, refreshing, slightly sweet, and pretty wonderful. The main and only difference is the outer coating. Perhaps this one is to protect from the hot southern Chinese sun as it sits on the tree branches.
Other types of Litchi (Lizhi, Lychee - a fruit by any other name) come in green and slightly yellow varieties and taste just as delicious on the tongue. During lychee season, these fruits are abundant. You can pick them up from streets stalls, in every supermarket, and most homes and offices, schools, and other workplaces will have them displayed and ready to eat, inviting you to help yourself. Just remember to say thank you!