A vegetarian travelling SE Asia, I had reservations about how the food would be. Factor in anaphylactic allergies to cashews and pistachios (read: I’m extremely hesitant to try anything I can’t identify the ingredients in), and you can begin to imagine how tough night markets or any places where staff doesn’t speak English are for me.
One thing I was excited about when it came to food in Asia?
Southeast Asia has an abundance of exotic, flavourful fruits in every shape, size and smell you could imagine.
Long time a fan of tropical fruits available in the US and UK, I couldn’t wait to try some of my favourites (mangos, pineapple, lychee) in Asia, and see what else the places I visited had to offer.
If you’re visiting SE Asia, fruit in every country won’t be the same, but there will be similarities.
If you see them, don’t miss trying these 14 Asian fruits
Jackfruit: Originally from India, you’ll find jackfruit across SE Asian countries when it’s in season. It smells similar to a banana, and some people think it also tastes similar to one. I’ve had it fresh in smoothies and would be more likely to compare its taste to bubblegum, but in a good way. Sweet and fresh. Jackfruit also makes a good meat substitute- I’ve had it in bbq tacos, and can confirm it’s pretty similar to what I recall pork being like, texture wise at least.
Durian: Chances are, even if you haven’t tried or seen a durian before, you’ve heard of it. The fruit has quite the reputation for its strong smell. I think Durian falls into one of two camps- it’s either an acquired taste if you weren’t introduced to it until you were an adult, or likely something you love if you grew up with it and have been conditioned to like the smell and taste. Unfortunately for me, the smell is something that makes me cough (I smell garbage and onions), and the taste isn’t much better (notes of onions and caramel). Even if you don’t think you’ll like it, you should still try it. It’s such a part of Asian culture- it’s even referenced as the ‘king fruit’ of Asia. It’s not cheap, which is why I jumped at the chance to try it in a dessert in Vietnam vs. buying it fresh on the streets.
Rambutan: Native to Indonesia and a few other Southeast Asian countries, Rambutans are usually medium size with what looks like a hairy skin. Most rambutans I’ve seen are red with green ‘hair’. They’re oft compared to lychees in outer and inner appearance, but I prefer lychees- they’re a bit sweeter than Rambutans.
Lychee: Before venturing to Asia, I’d never had fresh lychee, but had drank enough lychee martinis to know I liked the taste. Originating in Southern China, lychees are small and reddish brown. The inner fruit, is white and juicy. Lychees have long been considered a symbol of love, there’s even a Chinese legend that says the last Emperor of the Tang Dynasty had his guards travel over 600 miles across China to bring fresh lychees to the palace in an attempt to woo a woman. Delighted to discover through my travels, that I love eating actual lychees almost as much as I love drinking the juice.
Passion Fruit: Longtime a fan of ‘passion fruit flavoured’ things, I had an inkling I’d also enjoy the fresh fruit, and boy, was I right. Passion fruit has become one of my favorite fruits to eat fresh. I’ve encountered both sweet and sour varieties, which I think are equally delicious. Passion fruit’s hard shell appearance kind of resembles a plum, but once you crack it open, you see the inside flesh is usually yellow/orange or white in color with what looks like little black beads strewn throughout.
Mangosteen: If durian is the ‘king’ of Asian fruits, then mangosteen is widely regarded as the ‘queen’. Thus far, mangosteen has been my favourite new-to-me fruit in SE Asia- I never miss a chance to try mangosteen juice or grab fresh ones from a market. Crack open a mangosteen’s hard, outer purple shell to squeeze out its soft white flesh. It’s sweet and tangy, an interesting combination for fruit.
Dragon Fruit: Some people don’t like dragon fruit because they perceive it to be a cool looking fruit with bland taste. And, while I don’t disagree with that line of thought for white dragonfruit, pink dragonfruit is another story. From the outside, they look similar, but pink dragonfruit is actually pink inside and tastes a bit sweeter. I enjoy it as a cleansing fruit post-dinner. Plus, I just love how cool dragon fruit looks before you cut it open.
Coconut: I know, I know, coconuts are available in most parts of the world- especially big cities. But, the coconuts in Asia are much bigger and better than any other coconuts I’ve come across. Cracking one open on a beach or in a cafe on a sweltering afternoon is a surefire way to cool off quickly.
Papaya: The first time I had papaya on a trip to Costa Rica years ago, I was instantly hooked. Sweet, but not overly saccharine, I loved this dense orange fruit. It wasn’t until travelling Asia that I learned of the fruit’s many, many benefits- if there was an Asian superfruit, papaya would likely hold the title. Boasting 33% more Vitamin C and 50% more potassium than oranges, it also contains Vitamin A, calcium iron and fibre.
Custard Apples: Travelling Vietnam, custard apples were everywhere. In Hanoi, I bought one from a market to try and couldn’t believe how delicious the insides were- sweet and creamy.
Rose Apples: Another fruit I noticed while traversing across Vietnam and Thailand- rose apples. The first time I bit into these, I was taken quite aback- they’re crunchy, bitter, and yet very moist. They’re long and circular in shape with round bottoms, and although I’m not sure why, the first time I saw them, I thought of plums. Thais often top rose apples with spiced sugar, which sounds like a great way to enjoy this complex fruit to me.
Snake Skin Fruit: Present on beaches across Asia and in Indonesian markets, snake skin fruits resemble the skin of a snake on the outside. Tear into one and you’ll find white cloves inside. Reminiscent of mangosteen by way of complex flavour, snake skin fruit is tangy but in an enjoyable way.
Soursop: As the name suggests, soursop are often at least somewhat sour in taste. Apparently soursop is related to custard apples, which is interesting given how different the two fruits are in taste and appearance. I’ve tried soursop in a smoothie, mixed with pineapple and coconut milk, and really enjoyed the sweet-tart taste all three combined produced.
Guava: Resembling an orange, but green in colour, I wasn’t too keen on guava the first time I ate it fresh. But, squeezed as a fresh juice is another story. Guava juice has become one of my favourite things to drink in the morning- it’s not too sweet, really quite mild, but reminds me of both pears and strawberries.
Have you ever visited Asia and tried fruits you saw at the market or on restaurant menus? Which ones were your favourite?