09 August 2006

The Queen of Fruits

An article from The New York Times: Forbidden? Not the Mangosteen. I so hope mangosteens will be available in the U.S. soon. Well, actually, gimme now—I can't wait!

When in Malaysia I consume mangosteens like a fruit eating fiend. They are my favorite fruit, next to rambutans, and I can eat them by the bushel.

Mangosteen are a notoriously difficult to transport. If they get bruised in any way, they are damaged for life. The skin, which is thick and hard like a shell, sticks to the fruit's white flesh; the parts won't separate and the fruit can't be eaten.

Even peeling it is tricky business and invovles technique akin to taking a lid off a jar--a fragile jar with a delicate lid. You gently hold the mangosteen with both hands and carefully twist through the middle in opposite directions until the shell cracks, revealing sections of pearly flesh. Lucky me got a crate of them for free the last time I was in Malaysia two years ago.

As night felt on an unbearably humid day, I waited with my cousins for my uncle to finish his business at the fruit stand. A truck--or lorry as it's called in the former British colony--pulled into the parking lot carrying a full-load of mangosteens in crates stacked five high and seven deep.

The driver and his motley crew began to unload the goods with the skill of a team doing the job all the time and the attention of a gang doing such work too many times--quickly, but not carefully. It was only a matter of time before one stack tipped from their impatient jerk of the handcart, sending a small sea of purple orbs bouncing and rolling on the ground. Their carelessness was my gain.

My uncle brokered the deal and I got to collect anything on the ground and everything in the upset containers. Working against darkness--the sun had set an hour ago and the afterglow was fading fast--I gathered as fast as I could. The hem of my skirt dipped and dragged in the dirt, but lady-like decorum be damned; now wasn't the time to let wardrobe get in the way of collecting my loot. The last bag was filled in complete darkness. I picked the scattered fruit by touch as if feeling for smooth, round stones in a sandy riverbed. In the end, I tossed half of them, banged beyond repair, but the rest was as good as gold--edible gold, that is.

It was a late night feast as I lifted the fruit to my lips and gently sucked the soft segments. They slid into my mouth; the delicate flesh broke and bathed my tongue in pure, sweet pleasure. It was bliss in every bite, and a free delight.

Mangosteen factoids:
-The number of points you see on the “star” at the base of the fruit is equal to the number of segments inside.
-They are called the "queen of fruits" in Malaysia.
-They are yin in the Chinese matrix of yin/yang foods.


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