Oh how grateful I am for the fruits of other people’s labor…..especially when I travel! As I wake up and crave my daily dose of fruits, I head straight to the local market brimming with freshness to get my fix. Although fruits were readily available in every country we visited in Southeast Asia, Cambodia stood out not only for its variety but also for its unbeatable affordability. And so in honor of the country that gave me so much deliciousness, here is a mini-introduction to some of the fruits I encountered (and photographed) in Cambodia.
DRAGON FRUIT (PITAHAYA OR PITAYA)
Part of the cactus family, this quirky looking fruit looks like it has a head of wild dreads dipped in green dye. Its skin is a pinkish-red with either a pure white or neon pink interior, both types speckled with tiny black seeds. The pitahayas with a white interior are quite bland and dry (according to my taste buds) but I enjoyed the sweeter, juicier elixir of the pink-interior ones (which I discovered in Kratie).
Dragon fruits are rich in antioxidants, high in vitamin C and several B vitamins, contain fatty acids (the good kind) and best of all are low in calories and are subsequently very filling. That means you don’t need to eat a lot to satiate your hunger but you can eat as many as you’d like because of their low-calorie intake!
Talk about the perfect snack to binge on!
Native to the Malay-Indonesian region, rambutans (meaning ‘hairy’ in Malay) made their way all over Southeast Asia. Rambutans are fiery red fruits with a soft, spiky (hairy) exterior. Unwrapping this fruit will reveal a white, fibrous flesh surrounding a large, black seed. Juicy and sweet, rambutans are rich in vitamin C which promotes healthy, youthful-looking skin, and are a great source of copper which may help in preventing hair loss and premature graying of hair.
Could rambutans be the fountain of youth of fruits?
This oval-shaped fruit goes under the “don’t judge a book by its cover” category. A dull, patchy brown in color and outstandingly pale in comparison to the much more color-coordinated fruits found at the market, sapodillas, which can easily be mistaken for small potatoes, aren’t particularly attractive. Removing the gritty skin won’t incite your taste buds any more than its exterior; the soft flesh of the sapodilla fruit is an equally unappetizing brownish color. But believe me when I say that sapodillas are stupendously sweet!
Sapodillas are believed to have originated in Central America (possibly Mexico) but have been cultivated in tropical Asian countries for years. It’s ironic that this brown lackluster fruit is considered to be one of nature’s laxatives; its fibrous content can help relieve constipation.
So next time you see this humble fruit, remember how it can be your best friend in times of hardship (ahem)!
Again, this tiny fruit wasn’t blessed with a color-rich exterior but removing (with your fingers) its slightly rigid skin will unveil a small, round mound of juicy sweetness similar to the lychee fruit (which has a red exterior). In Cambodia (and other countries in Southeast Asia), longans are usually sold in bunches while still on the stem.
Despite their small size, longans sure pack a punch as far as nutritional values go! Aside from supplying several B vitamins and an important amount of vitamin C, they also have anti-oxidant, anti-viral, anti-fungal and antibacterial properties. Easy to eat, easy to carry, longans were my favorite go-to fruit while in Cambodia.
Whoever said size matters never met the longan fruit!
Not to be mistaken for its evil cousin the durian, the green knobbly-skinned jackfruit is the biggest tree-borne fruit on the planet sometimes reaching an astonishing 100 lbs / 45 kg! Due to its somewhat putrid stench, I’ve never been inclined to taste the jackfruit but the hundreds of seeds that grow inside the ubiquitously Asian fruit are a rich source of protein, potassium, calcium, and iron – coining it a ‘super fruit’ in its own right.
Mention durian and most people will crumple their nose in disgust and exclaim how horrific it smells – and they would be right. Durians emanate such a strong stench, often described as rotten eggs or sewage (yummy) that this spiky fruit has been banned from hotels, restaurants and even certain airports. Loved by some and loathed by others (I remain neutral as I’ve never tasted it), durians couldn’t care less as they contain much more nutrients than most other (better scented, better looking) fruits – so there!
Durians might not have the looks but they certainly have the brains.
PLUM MANGO (MAPRANG)
While strolling around the market in Kampot, a woman noticed we were questioning one of the fruits on display. Small, round and the color of apricots, we wondered what they were exactly. She surprised us by speaking French (only a few elderly Cambodians speak the language) and introduced herself, and the fruit, to us – “Maprang in Khmer”, she said, she didn’t know the name in English or French.
We didn’t understand the name back then but turns out they were plum mangoes but the name still didn’t ring a bell. Upon taking my first bite of this foreign fruit, I immediately realized that it tasted nothing like mangoes (one of my favorite fruits!). It was really, really sour to the point of being inedible – I had to spit it out like a boisterous tattooed sailor! Our newfound friend laughed at my squirming and explained that the plum mangoes weren’t ripe yet but that’s how Cambodians prefer to eat them.
I guess one man’s sour is another man’s sweet.
The mangoes in Cambodia were the sweetest I tasted in all of Southeast Asia and they never failed to make my mouth water at the sheer sight of them! The variety (species) of mangoes found in Cambodia are mostly ataulfo – oval with a yellow skin (as opposed to the bigger red/green variety). The price per mango was incredibly cheap (about .20¢ each) so we bought some every chance we got (which was pretty much every day).
Mangoes are fat-free, cholesterol-free and sodium-free – need I say more?
This is another fruit I had never seen. While walking around on Koh Paen located across the Mekong river from Kampong Cham, we were beckoned by a lovely family to their front yard. Curious about this fruit scattered all about, we asked what it was. The man didn’t speak English but his wife was an English teacher. She tried to explain to us what the fruit was but to no avail. Determined, she went inside the house and returned with an information sheet on all the fruits of Cambodia (I should’ve taken a pic!) and pointed to this wood apple. The smile of satisfaction on her face was priceless!
The shell of the wood apple is tough and hard (like….wood!) and the inside is a white-ish pulp that can be eaten raw or cooked. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to taste the wood apple because it wasn’t in-season which is why they were falling off the tree so easily.
This inconspicuous fruit has loads of health benefits in relation to digestion, the liver and the kidneys. It helps with respiratory problems, cures diarrhea and is known to reduce inflammation among other things. I wonder if this family is aware that they have a natural pharmacy right in their yard?
In any case, all hail the wood apple!
I know, I know, bananas are everywhere but I like this picture and wanted to include it.
Plus, bananas are highly nutritious so instead of grabbing a bag of chips or a random chocolate bar when hunger strikes during your travels, grab a banana instead because, well, they’re everywhere!
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Have you tried some of these fruits? Do you have a favorite one?