The Grocery Ninja leaves no aisle unexplored, no jar unopened, no produce untasted. Creep along with her below, and read her past market missions here.
It's no secret that I love my housemates (both sets in Providence, Rhode Island, and Ithaca, New Yorkand yes, I know how lucky I am). I usually talk about my Russian housemate here in Providence because he's the one who spends the most time with me in the kitchen, procrastinating on "real work."
But this week, having carted a paper bag of pawpaws back to Provy from the Cornell Orchards store in Ithaca, I have to say I may love my Agentinian housemate most. I crept into the house all apprehensive, holding my precious pawpaws behind me, wondering if I should bide my time before springing them on her. For those familiar with pawpaws though, you'll know there's no hiding one.
"Is it alright? Do you mind?" I ask. "Because I can stash them beneath my bed and keep my room's door closed. I know they smell quite strongly."
"Oh these smell amazing!" she said, sticking her head into the bag to get a couple of deep whiffs.
And just like that, if this were a romance story, here is where I'd admit to falling in love. How can you not adore someone who shares your reverence for stinky blue cheese and keeps an open mind (and palate) when confronted with an extremely odorous belacan stir-fry?
For homesick Southeast Asians, these pawpaws are the closest thing you can get to fresh durian in the States. When I first spotted the sign, I was confused. Having lived in Australia, the pawpaw I'm familiar with is more akin to the tropical papaya then the mangolike fruit I was greeted with. In terms of smell, though, there is no mistaking it: jackfruit. It's been described as "the scent of rotting onions," and along with the durian and the jackfruit's softer-fleshed cousin cempedak, falls into the "fruit most reviled by Westerners" category. (We, of course, think this "holy trinity" of tropical fruit smell glorious, the way most people feel about the scent of freshly ground coffee.)
Slicing into the pawpaw, and then (as you can see from the messy edges), tearing into it, I was greeted with a row of black seeds the size of fava beans. I briefly wondered if these seeds, when tossed into a pot of cooking ricethe way my family cooks durian and jackfruit seeds back homewould be edible. Once scraped clean of its flesh, the seeds are thrown into the rice cooker in a "waste not, want not" fashion. They taste pleasantly mealy and blandalmost like chestnuts but a lot more filling. A quick Google search turned up nothing on pawpaw seeds being edible (or palatable), though, so not wanting to push my luck and traumatize my housemate with an uncertain experiment, we had a spitting contest on the fire escape instead.
How does the flesh taste? The Argentinian roommate found its sweet, creamy flavor "very familiar" but was hard pressed to identify it. Google tells me some people would peg it to a banana, but I reckon the similarity starts and ends with the creaminessand even then, it's a different kind of creamy, more like mango than banana. In truth, the pawpaw probably tastes like a milder, more approachable version of the durian. So for those who have been intrigued by the "king of fruits" but have been hesitant to shell out the big bucks for the real thing, start with the pawpaw. I hear they're cultivated in Ohio and are popular among organic farmers because they attract very few pests. It seems its twigs and bark "show promise in cancer treatment," too, so I'm sure we'll be seeing more of it soon.
For now, I've been homesick for the durian-filled choux pastry puffs and swiss rolls back home and so have been puréeing the last of my pawpaws and adding them to cake batter. The verdict? Delicious, delicious!
About the author: Wan Yan Ling is an impoverished grad student and sourdough finger-crosser living in Rhode Island. She can usually be found in the kitchen procrastinating on "real work" or online tracking down obscure recipes. Ling thinks eating alone is no fun, and she still believes in hand-mixing.