New foods and traveling go hand in hand with each other. If you aren’t going to sample the local cuisine and instead prefer your McDonald’s, well then you might want to think twice about traveling somewhere exotic. Those type of people are scaredy-cat travelers — brave enough to travel but still fearful of trying anything new — and although they may feel safe and secure with their comfort foods, all they are doing in fact is making the rest of us look ignorant. Besides, life starts just outside of your comfort zone…so go on, live life! Try something new.
Fruit Is Nature’s Candy
Fruit never killed anybody and is certainly a lot less likely to give you food poisoning than that questionable mystery meat you purchased from a street vendor. “Wait…is this dog??” (Turns out it was!)
While there may be one or two fruits on this list that are not quite to your liking, I guarantee that the majority will leave you impressed and wanting more! So go on, take a look, and be sure to comment below with your experiences, favorites fruits, and any others that I’ve missed — because this is nowhere near the full list of Southeast Asia Fruit fruits!
Also known as Carambola
One look at this fruit and you would be able to guess the name without ever having heard of it before thanks to the five ridges that run down its sides. Not only is it juicy and delicious but often times it is sliced and the cross sections will be used to garnish drinks or food platters.
Primarily found in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand
This tropical fruit has a tough outer peel but is well worth the work to enjoy its sweet tangy taste. However it also has a very very short season, meaning it can often be hard to find and somewhat expensive compared to other fruits.
Apparently this fruit can grow to weigh 30 kilos or more, however I’ve only seen the smaller varieties for sale from street vendors in Vietnam. I don’t really know how to describe the taste (that’s why I’m not a food blogger!) but they are really good and really sticky. They also have a large seed in the center.
Also known as Salak
Grown in bunches at the base of a species of palm trees, Snakefruit plantations can be found throughout Sumatra, Indonesia. I got an inside look at one while filming my Siak tourism film — that is also where I first sampled this tasty fruit. The name comes from its scaly brownish-red skin, which can be peeled back to reveal three white lobes and a large seed.
Every foreign traveler to Asia has encountered the unmistakable durian. Although many Westerners don’t care for their pungent smell and…well…rather indescribable taste, Asians however absolutely love them. But there is no middle ground — you either adore them or despise them. Durian is also used to make a variety of food products, most particularly sweets, chocolates, and pastries.
Also known as Pitaya
Undoubtedly the coolest-looking fruit of them all, dragonfruit is one that you will never forget the look of. However the taste is easy to forget and nothing special. Not bad, just bland.
Originally native to Indonesia and Malaysia, rambutan has spread to tropical climates all over the world and is probably one of the most well-known of all the fruits in this post. It is also very juicy and delicious, kind of like an exotic grape — just remember that there is a small nut in the center so don’t choke on it (like my buddy Jared nearly did in the funny video below).
Despite being similar to rambutan both in appearance (once peeled) and taste, surprisingly the two come from completely different families of fruit species. The fruit is very sweet and juicy plus is often used for cooking in soups, snacks, sweets and desserts, especially in China.
Writing about rambutan and longan also reminded me of lychee, a third fruit that is nearly identical in appearance to the other two — once peeled, of course. It is originally native to China and found in a lot of desserts there. However I’ve also seen it in countless juices throughout all the countries in Southeast Asia.
This fruit is often confused with rambutan, which you can see pictured behind the pulasan. However it is much less hairy and therefore easy to distinguish once you know the difference. The inner part still looks exactly the same — clear, semi-translucent fruit with a single nut in the middle — but it is sweeter than both rambutan and lychee. Very good but impossible to find outside of southeast Asia.
Also known as shaddock or lusho fruit
Closely related to grapefruit, pomelo is much sweeter than its bitter cousin and a good deal larger. In fact it is the largest citrus fruit in the world, often measuring 20-25 centimetres (8-10 inches) and weighing as much as 2 kilos (4½ pounds).
When I first saw these all over Vietnam I thought they were tangerines but it turns out I was wrong. Although they are most commonly used in making marmalade, jelly and preserves, I’ve also seen them at a few Vietnamese soup shops intended for squeezing the juice into your soup — much as you would with a lime. Very good!
I personally have never tried breadfruit but have seen it growing in Indonesia. Rather than eating the fruit raw, most often it is cooked by baking, broiling, roasting or frying. My friends in Indonesia described it as tasting kind of like potatoes or bread, hence the name.
Also known as champoo or bell fruit
This small, bell-shaped fruit is very watery with a slight crunch to it, not dissimilar to a watermelon except that it only has one seed in the center instead of several scattered throughout. The fruit is often served uncut, but with the core removed, to preserve the unique bell-shaped presentation.
Often ignored by Westerners due to its dull brown, unattractive exterior and even more disturbing interior (which has veins growing down the outside of the pulp), tamarind is actually quite good, even a tad sour. After cracking open the brittle shell and removing the veins you suck on the remaining part for a few minutes until all that’s left in your mouth is a small seed, which can be spit out. I’m actually eating them as I type this post 😉 (pardon the crappy phone photo)
Also known as cotton fruit or sour apple
This final addition is the only one on this list except for breadfruit that I have not yet tried, hence the photo from WikiMedia. The fruit can be found in several Thai dishes and curries, most notably Som Tam krathon.
Other Southeast Asia fruit that I am still searching for includes:
- Sapodilla Also known as ciku, a popular tropical fruit whose exterior resembles the kiwi
- Yangmei Also known as Waxberry or Chinese Strawberry, this native fruit from China can be eaten fresh, dried or fermented to make baijiu, a Chinese liquor
- Noni Also known as Indian Mulberry or Cheese fruit, the latter of which is because this fruit has a pungent smell and apparently does not taste that good
- Sugar Apple Also known as Sweetsop, it is said to taste similar to custard