Forbidden Fruit, Maldives Edition
The incredible experience of seeing and tasting an unknown food for the first time, and formulating how my international crime syndicate would smuggle it through customs...starring Jason Statham
I traveled to the Maldives this Christmas, and was in awe of the abundance of fruit that I had never seen before. As a first timer in that part of the world, I came across two fruits that I obsessed over for the whole trip, purple mangosteen and rambutan. Before relishing my coffee on the beach every morning, I would eat homemade yogurt and pick out the most unknown fruits to me from the basket, a cornucopia of alien life forms: some neon, some spiky, some displaying an intimidating outer armor, others looking like a deformed version of something familiar. I was inspired to share two of these pieces of produce with you since they were previously unknown to me.
Purple mangosteen has an eggplant purple, hard exterior and the cutest little green hat (ahem, stem) on top. The ripe ones should give a little when squeezed, almost like pushing into a ping pong ball. When you cut it in half, the delicate white flesh is exposed in the middle. This is the part you eat! The fruit itself has a smooth and velvety mouthfeel, almost like eating something as rich as uni (a texture that was not as palatable for my travel partner as it was for me). The flavor is creamy and slightly tangy, almost like a peachy dreamsicle.
The purple mangosteen grows mostly in Southeast Asia and India. Due to introduction into other tropical areas, it's apparently also available in Florida and Puerto Rico. Maybe I just haven't been looking hard enough in the produce section of my local supermarket? They arrived domestically in 2007 and sold for up to $60 per pound (NYT).
Also surprising, when googling this fruit, I discovered that mangosteen powder is currently being marketed as an instant slimming drink that "melts fat as fast as the sun melts ice cream". LOL
I initially thought that the rambutan was a lychee! They look very similar, and taste even more alike. The exterior of the rambutan is bright pink and has a head of wild hair. In fact, rambutan means hairy in Indonesian. These spikes don't sting, they feel more like one of those plastic spiky toy balls that kids play with. The flesh of the rambutan, for me, is almost indistinguishable to the lychee. If you've never tasted lychee (and no, a lychee martini does not count... gross), the white flesh is slippery, sweet, and slightly tangy. Very similar to unpeeled red grapes.
Rambutans are more widely cultivated than the mangosteen and are found in Asia, Oceania, Africa, and Central America. There was an unsuccessful attempt to introduce it in the Southeastern US in the early 1900s though, and only took hold in Puerto Rico. The Spruce does an excellent post on how to peel a rambutan on their blog.