The Mangosteens Are Coming

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The Mangosteen is coming. I had one in Vancouver, B.C. a couple of years ago, and it was lusciously delicious. The late Johnny Apple would be so happy. Here's a tiny portion of what he wrote about his craving for mangosteens in the Times in 2003. I will certainly toast Johnny when I taste my first mangosteen in New York.

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I'm a big-time mangosteen addict, which presents problems.

The mangosteen -- a tropical fruit about the size of a tangerine, whose leathery maroon shell surrounds moist, fragrant, snow-white segments of ambrosial flesh -- can't get a visa. Mangosteens may not legally be imported into the United States. They may not legally be shipped to the mainland from Hawaii, where a few sturdy souls have lately begun to grow them anyway.

Here in Thailand and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, notably Vietnam and Singapore, people buy them by the bagful for small change. In Vancouver and other Canadian cities with big Asian populations, you can find them at street markets and greengrocers. In Paris, Fauchon will sell you one for a prince's if not quite a king's ransom.

But back home in Washington, the best I can do without jumping on a plane is the wooden mangosteen, handsomely carved and oiled, that sits on my desk there.

So what, you may say. What's he getting worked up about? He can gobble up papayas, mangoes and even rambutans when he gets a tropical itch. In the summer, he can eat perfectly ripe peaches, still warm from the tree, and dark, sweet plums whose juices squirt out when a tooth breaks through their taut skins.

Friends have accused me of craving mangosteens because they are beyond my reach, the way children in the old Soviet Union craved oranges. Not guilty, say I.

No other fruit, for me, is so thrillingly, intoxicatingly luscious, so evocative of the exotic East, with so precise a balance of acid and sugar, as a ripe mangosteen. I thought so when I first tasted one half a lifetime ago, in Singapore, and I've thought so ever since. I'd rather eat one than a hot fudge sundae, which for a big Ohio boy is saying a lot.

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