Eating tropical fruit reminds me of places I’ve been— or new places I want to go. In my mind, the taste of papaya will always be linked with Hawai’i. I can even remember the last papaya I had— stopped at a convenience store on the big island, and they happened to have a pile of ripe papayas near the register. The cashier offered me a spoon for the perfectly ripe fruit, which I ate while looking at a map of national parks. A perfectly ripe papaya will be pink-ish red inside, soft and sweet, the juice running down your hands.
One way to deal with the mid-winter, Midwestern February blahs: buy tropical fruit at the grocery store. It’ll look pretty on your counter, and trying to get it to ripen properly is an adventure. Meijer’s always has a bin or two of strange-looking fruit from faraway places. I know it ain’t seasonal— but then, neither are oranges and bananas, and I know you eat those.
About papaya: they’re tricky to get to ripen properly when you buy them imported. I buy them one at a time, and put them in a brown bag with a banana. They won’t smell as fragrant as when you pick them where they grow. You’ll have to judge the ripeness from texture and color. When they are yellow and slightly soft, it’s time to get you a spoon. To eat, cut them in half, scoop out the black seeds, and eat the reddish-orange inside. I’ve eaten them plain, or with honey. They also make a good addition to fruit salads, and are tasty paired with apples and bananas. Like oranges, they have lots of Vitamins C.
Dragonfruit (or pitaya) are another wonderful fruit to buy when it’s dreary outside. I first ate these in Shanghai— I was told that they were good for the skin. My mother and I would buy them from the same fruit vendor that sold calling cards for the U.S. And honestly, how can anyone not love eating these? They’re pink and spiky! When the skin is a bit soft to the touch, slice them in half lengthwise, and scoop out the white inside. They have a gentle, mild flavor, and like kiwi, have lots of tiny seeds. High in Vitamin B, they’re also low in sugar.
Starfruit sound like something Dr. Suess would write about. (They’re also called carambola.) Aptly named, you want to eat them when they’re turning yellow— green means they’re not quite ready yet. To serve starfruit, slice width-wise so they look like stars. I’ve never taken out the seeds, but sometimes I do trim the star’s edges, if they’re getting brown. They’re a bit crispy and a touch citrus-y, and I like adding them to salads instead of strawberries.
Lychees are another fruit I first encountered in China. Small and very sweet, when they’re ripe, the outer skin turns pink or red. They’re wonderfully sweet, it’s almost like they come with their own syrup. Lychees have a hard but thin outer shell, which you crack open to reveal the delicate white fruit. They do have big pits in the center. I like to just peel and snack on them. In the spring, I’ve seen some vendors in Detroit’s Eastern Market selling them.
A final fruit that I’ve used to brighten up gray days: blood oranges. They appeal to my inner goth girl, and the flesh is dark and bloody looking— but the adult me likes the Vitamin C they have.
Did I miss one of your favorite fruits?
Also, many of these photos are not mine— they come from some talented folks on Flickr. If you’re interested, clicking on the photo caption will take you to their photostream.