Thailand is home to some of the most exotic fruit I’ve ever tried. Sure the Land of Smiles has all the typical stuff of a tropical climate: banana, mango, pineapple, watermelon, papaya, coconut. But it is also home to a variety of fruits I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world. Some are spiky, some are stinky, some are hairy. I’ve made it a personal mission to try everything once. Having Thai friends is useful as I often need their help to show me how to cut and eat the fruit. I undoubtedly have some favorites and then there are others…
Durian: Considered the King of Thai fruits, durian is a national treasure. It is also, without a doubt, an acquired taste. The fruit has a creamy, flesh-like consistency with a seed in the middle. Durian is also known as the stinky fruit as it often reeks like week-old gym socks or rotting milk. Its smell is so offensive, it is banned from certain hotels and public transportation. There is no fruit that is more controversial than durian. Like George W. Bush, you either love it or hate it. There is so much hype around durian, I was a bit underwhelmed when I finally tried it. I didn’t find the smell that offensive. And its taste was mild. Not sweet per se. Just more like a mouth of mucous-y, flesh texture. If you have texture issues, durian’s definitely not for you.
Longan: Native to Thailand, longan is cut off the vine in bunches, like grapes. You must crack open the light brown-yellow shell to expose the translucent, eyeball-like fruit. Longan is not terribly sweet but it is refreshing and delightful. On a hot day, you can pop the bite-sized fruits into your mouth and feel completely rehydrated.
Dragon Fruit: Dragon fruit is pink with green spikes and looks like a cartoon monster. Its peel is quite thick and must be cut to expose the white, seeded flesh. It is similar to a kiwi, I would say, but more crunchy and less sweet. It looks amazing but sort of tastes less amazing than it looks. That’s not to say it tastes bad; it just doesn’t have much taste at all. Subtle and crunchy. Not sweet and not sour.
Mangosteen: Mangosteen is purple with a green leaf top. It’s about the size of a small apple or orange. The purple exterior must be peeled or cut to expose the white fruit wedges. The fruit is like citrus but less tangy. Light, delicious, not overly sweet; it tastes like what I imagine would happen if a grape procreated with a tangerine. Mangosteens are incredible and are hand’s down my favorite fruit in Thailand. Rumor has it that they are available in the U.S. in certain areas but cost $6.99/lb. I’m conspiring to bring some home be it in my suitcase or via post.
Rambutan: Rambutan is the size of a golf ball, has pink and green hairs, and looks remarkably like a sea urchin. Its texture is similar to Longan, which means it’s like an eyeball or grape. They are a little difficult to peel and require a knife or a sharp fingernail. The fruit itself is mild, not terribly sweet or sour and tastes similar to a lychee minus the sourness.
Rose Apple: Rose apple at first glance could be mistaken for a pear. It’s exterior is waxy and shiny. The fruit itself tastes exactly like an apple and a pear together as one. It’s crunchy, slightly sweet, and juicy. They are definitely a favorite even though they don’t look as exotic as many of the other options.
Lychee: Lychees are as amazing as mangosteens in my opinion. The semi-hard red peel must be removed to expose the translucent flesh. From afar, lychees could be mistaken for strawberries but they are nothing like strawberries. The taste is a perfect combination of sweet and sour. They are quite simply divine. I’m told you can use lychees to make killer martinis. Oh, how I want one.
There are a host of other widely available fruits in Thailand: langset, guava, jack fruit, pomelo, et al. Many are not indigenous to Thailand and several are available in other parts of the world. I’ll leave you to your own devices for further exploration.