Snapshots from Asia: Tropical Fruit Feast: Snakefruit and the Housemate’s Revenge

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Housemates’ wild partying grating on you? Time to ante up. Get your hands on a bunch of these scaly beauties, peel them, and leave the skins scattered about—the housemates will be convinced there’s a molting snake on the loose! That should put a temporary stop to the parties.

Step 1: Buy a bunch of snakefruit.

Step 2: Peel the fruit, and plant the skins in the housemate’s room.

Step 3: Go up to your housemate, look concerned, and ‘fess up about the snake you brought home and “kinda lost.”

Step 4: Watch your “too cool” housemate freak out when he discovers the molted snake skins in his room. Fun!

Fortunately for my housemates, I’m dotty about them. And while abundant in Southeast Asia, here in the States, snakefruit or salak are only grown in South Florida and that’s a bit too much of a trek—even for a good prank.

What Does Snakefruit Taste Like?

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Fig-shaped and covered in a thin, crinkly brown skin, the snakefruit looks (in my mind) like a baby pangolin curled up in a tiny ball. Pinch the nib on top and pull, and the skin obligingly sloughs off to reveal several lobes of creamy, off-white flesh. These lobes should be firm to the touch—like garlic cloves—and you want to be on guard against specimens that are wet, off-color, or whiffy (like these). They may look like garlic, but they taste most reminiscently of a mix of pineapples and bananas. They also have a crisp texture like carrots, but you don’t want to be too enthusiastic about chomping down on them—there’s usually a good-sized, inedible brown seed within each lobe.

Sounds good so far, huh? The thing with snakefruit is that they tend to be a love-them or hate-them affair, usually because of their high tannin content—the tannins can make them unpleasantly astringent, giving the sensation that you’re holding a thirsty sponge in your mouth. Detractors can’t get past this “dry mouth” feel, while fans appreciate its refreshing, sweet acidity. There are two popular cultivars of snakefruit: Salak Pondoh and Salak Bali. The former has quite a distinct scent (not unlike the durian) and can be a challenge for the olfactory senses. The latter is a lot more approachable, even likable, on first whiff.

Different Ways To Eat Snakefruit

Mangosteen juice may have been making the rounds, working the Wholefoods circuit with its high levels of anti-oxidants. But the snakefruit has been found to have an even higher content of these desirables (how long before entrepreneurs start capitalizing on this?). Locals in Terengganu, Malaysia, pickle the fruit and pack it in syrup, while villagers in Sibetan, Indonesia, make a sweet wine from it. The fresh fruit can be eaten in a salad—sliced and drizzled with a squeeze of lime—and I’ve even heard of it being poached with peppers. Personally, I like nothing better than to eat snakefruit out of hand. The Indonesians caution that downing too many will bring on a bowel movement dry spell, but I’ve never been fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to get my hands on that many.

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.

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