Snapshots from Asia: Tropical Fruit Feast, Red-Fleshed Dragon Fruit

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I write with trepidation. I know if I casually toss out a claim that, “Red-fleshed dragon fruit are always sweet,” someone, somewhere, will run up and toss a bland, sickly, red-fleshed dragon fruit in my face. So I proceed cautiously: I’ve yet to stumble upon a stingy sourpuss of a red-fleshed dragon fruit. All the ones I’ve had have been glorious.

I say this because it occurred to me that with mangosteens suddenly becoming legally available in the U.S. and people there shelling out insane amounts for its antioxidant-rich juice, hard-to-get-your-hands-on tropical fruit may just be the next big thing. And while I’m in Asia—where tropical fruits don’t cost half the earth—I figure I’ll eat my way through the lot and share them here.

20080623dragonhemispheres.jpgI’m starting the ball rolling with dragon fruit because I’ve noticed bloggers buying the impressive-looking, white-fleshed variety, paying a zillion dollars for them, and pronouncing them blah. That breaks my heart. It really does. There’s nothing more tragic than an unsatisfied, zillion-dollars-poorer, eater. So here’s a “secret”: I know the white-fleshed variety (Red Pitaya), studded with brilliant black seeds on the inside and festooned with lurid green “spikes” on the outside, looks fantastic. Yet, despite its dramatic good looks, it tends to under-deliver on flavor. More often than not, white-fleshed dragon fruit fall on the wrong side of insipid.

The red-fleshed variety (Costa Rica Pitaya), on the other hand, is generally sweet all the way through, with a mild acid bite. The insides look as if someone dropped the regular white-fleshed fruit in a vat of beetroot juice, and the outsides tend to look “squashed” (see pic above, and compare it to this one).

I’ve yet to spy the red-fleshed dragon fruit in the States, and my guess is that no one wants to import it when it’s uglier, and pricier to boot (about 70 cents each here in Singapore, while the white-fleshed ones are 99 cents for three!). There is apparently a yellow-skinned and white-fleshed variety (Yellow Pitaya), but I’ve no personal experience of them. Truly though, the best way to ensure you’re getting the good stuff is to look the friendly grocer in the eye and ask, “Are these sweet?” My friend’s mom is known for sampling fruit right before the grocer, and making a big show of treating the grocer to the sour fruit if he/she has been dishonest. Her reputation now precedes her, and she’s not been offered sub-par fruit in years!

20080623dragonfruitslices.jpgThe dragon fruit has been compared to the kiwifruit for the edible black seeds that dot its flesh, as well as its yielding texture. Personally, I’d liken the dragon fruit to a sweet melon with an occasional hint of tartness. I’ve been digging into one daily for brekkie, as all you need to do is slice the fruit in two hemispheres and grab a spoon—much less hassle than toast!

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