One of my favorite things about Thailand is the abundance of unique, delicious and cheap fruits that are available all year-round. All day long, street vendors are peddling these strange-looking summer snacks, so I decided it was finally time to give them a try. I enlisted the help of my roommate, Brittney, and we purchased some of the weirdest fruits we could find for our official Thai Fruit Taste Test.
First up was mahngkoot (มังคุค), or mangosteen in English, which is one of the most popular fruits in Thailand. From the outside, it almost looks like a plum, but the shell has a leathery texture that you have to break through to reveal the soft white fruit inside. We were instructed to open it by putting our thumb on the bottom and pushing it toward the center. It popped open, allowing us to peel the rest away, and the fruit was juicy, sweet and delicious!
Next in line was ngaw (เงาะ), a.k.a. rambutan, which looks a bit like a fuzzy red golf ball. With absolutely no clue how to eat it, we decided to cut it in half, revealing a large brown pit surrounded by white fruit that had the texture of Jell-O. Of course, we found out later that you’re supposed to just dig your nail into the skin and peel it, but the fruit itself is tangy and sweet and was one of my favorites!
I have to admit that when we came across this next fruit, I didn’t initially realize what it was. Linchee (ลิ้นจี่), or lychee, is very common in Thailand, especially in candies, fruit shakes and cocktails. (I had an amazing lychee martini at our resort in Phuket!) However, I’d never seen it in its original form. It looks similar to a raspberry, but bigger, and it has a hard shell. Again, we attempted to cut it in half and found that the pit in the center was very hard. We pulled apart the outer shell, revealing a nearly transparent fruit very similar to the rambutan, but with an even tangier, almost sour taste.
Often confused with lamyai due to their similar appearance, langsat (ลางสาด) is kind of like a sweet grape. Once again, we went and sliced in half before realizing that you’re supposed to peel it. This one doesn’t have a pit, although it does have several seeds that add a kind of bitterness, similar to that of a grapefruit. This is definitely one that I would be willing to try again!
Salak (สลัก) looks a lot like a grenade to me, but its scaly, brittle shell has earned it the nickname snake fruit. We FINALLY decided we should try peeling this one first, which was a success, but let’s just say it doesn’t exactly smell “fruity.” Thankfully, though, the taste wasn’t bad and reminded me a lot of an apricot.
Last, but certainly not least, is the big kahuna, the “King of Fruit,” the most controversial fruit on the planet: none other than the durian (ทุเรียน). If the thorny husk doesn’t immediately turn you off, the smell probably will, since it is often compared to that of old gym socks and rotting flesh. Nevertheless, the sweet and creamy fruit is extremely popular in many Southeast Asian countries.
The infamous Anthony Bourdain, who is actually a fan of durian, has said, “Its taste can only be described as…indescribable, something you will either love or despise…Your breath will smell as if you’d been French-kissing your dead grandmother.”
The smell of durian is so horrible, in fact, that the fruit is strictly prohibited from confined public spaces like hotels, planes and buses. Still, many Thai people love durian and are willing to pay top dollar (er, baht) for it. It is also used to make many flavored candies, chips and other snacks.
How I made it 8 months without trying a durian I’ll never know, but the day finally came and (drum roll, please)… it wasn’t as terrible as I expected!
To be honest, the weirdest part for me, aside from the awful smell, was the texture. I bit right into the fruit and expected it to be like biting into a cantaloupe, but it was really mushy, and instead kind of melted in my mouth. The taste, thought, was pretty good and made me curious to try some of the durian-flavored snacks I always see lining the shelves at 7/11.
We wrapped up our taste test by blending the leftover fruit into a delicious smoothie and threw in a splash of vodka to celebrate being healthy af and trying new things.