A holiday in Thailand is all about trying new experiences. Blessed with plentiful sunshine and rich soil, Thailand offers you the chance to enjoy the flavours, textures and scents of a vast array of succulent and healthful tropical fruits. There are probably many Thai fruits you have never have seen before, or are a rare and expensive treat back home.
After savouring the delicately-balanced flavours of local cuisine, many diners in Thailand – whether at a superb, five-star establishment or perched on a plastic stool at a busy sidewalk restaurant – top off a meal with a serving of fresh fruit. In most places, when you’re done eating, the smiling restaurant staff automatically bring you a plate of small, often stylishly shaped, slices of fresh watermelon (in Thai: tangmo), pineapple (sapparot) and papaya (malagor).
Rinsing the mouth and cooling the palate, this after-dinner fruit is a perfect complement to a delectable and perhaps spicy Thai meal. However, there is a remarkable variety of tropical fruits you can enjoy while in the Kingdom. Here are some suggestions for Thai fruits for you to sample. They will certainly add a special flavour to your holiday.
Durian (in Thai: Turian): We’ll start out with the legendary “King of Fruits”, a love-it or hate-it experience, largely due to the durian’s pungent odour. The powerful smell of durian is so pervasive that it’s banned in some places such as hotels and on airplanes and public transit. Don’t let the odour stop you from trying durian at least once in your life – it’s surprisingly sweet and rich, with the creamy texture of fine custard and a slightly nutty taste.
Adventurous epicureans visiting Thailand must make sure you don’t miss durian. Thailand is the world’s largest durian exporter, so the fruit is widely available at wet and dry food markets during the hot season of April through June. You may find it quite challenging to buy a good durian yourself – the large, spiky fruit comes in a variety of types and there are many subtle signs to look for regarding its quality and ripeness. Even local durian connoisseurs can find it tricky to pick out a good one. Then you’re faced with the challenge of breaking through the thick husk while fending off anybody around who takes exception to the powerful odour of your fruit.
It takes a sharp knife to cut lengthwise through the durian husk. When it’s finally open, get ready for a bracing durian rush from the pungent smell. Most vendors that sell durians are happy to cut it open for you, although you may be less happy carrying the durian back to your hotel or to the beach as the freshly-opened husk allows the full odour to escape. An especially entertaining way to open the fruit is the “durian dance”, in which an expert stands on the husk and rocks back and forth to split it in two.
Once the durian is open, you simply peel back the thin membrane to reveal the pale yellow meat in all its glory. Scoop out a pod of durian meat with your fingers or a spoon, and simply hold it in your hand to eat it. Be sure to watch for the large seeds. Durian is considered a fruit that heats the body, so resist overindulging or you may end up with heartburn.
An easier way to consider for your exotic durian experience is to ask whether a restaurant offers fresh durian in season with sweet sticky rice. Wrapped packages of durian meat are widely available at most supermarkets in Thailand, even off season, as are tubes of durian paste. If you’re still wary, you can get a milder taste of the fruit’s flavour by buying durian ice cream, dried durian chips or durian candy. Boxes of durian candy are an excellent gift to share an exotic taste of Thai fruit with your friends back home.
Custard Apple (In Thai: Noina): Sometimes called a sugar apple, the custard apple suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. It isn’t like any apple most visitors to Thailand would know, and it actually looks similar to an artichoke. Yet, break apart these segments by applying some light pressure with your fingers, or just cut the custard apple open, and you’ll find smooth and juicy flesh inside with a marvellously mellow flavour. The custard apple is most delicious on the outer part, as the flavour diminishes and the flesh gets drier towards the core. Watch out for the large and slippery seeds, which are inedible.
Longan (In Thai: Lamyai): One of the most popular fruits among Thai people, longan are most often sold in bunches. Extremely sweet and very juicy, it takes little effort to open a longan. Squeeze the end of the speckled brown peel around the stem and the fruit pops out. You can easily see the inedible, dark seed in the center through the translucent flesh, which is slippery with a slightly chewy texture similar to a grape. The longan has a refreshingly mild flavour – it’s the perfect place to start for a cautious eater who is apprehensive about trying a new and exotic fruit.
Longkong (In Thai: Longkong): Similar in name and look to longan, the longkong delivers a juicy burst of sweet but not overwhelming flavour. It’s easy to remove the rubbery, speckled brown peel to reveal a thin layer of sticky, translucent flesh you nibble off the large seed. While the flesh of the longkong fruit is pleasantly light and refreshing, be careful not to bite too hard – the seed is very bitter. With this delicious fruit, it won’t be long before your longkong are long gone.
Mangosteen (in Thai: Mungkoot): Known as the “Queen of Fruits”, don’t be fooled by the dark burgundy colour that gives the mangosteen its sombre appearance. Beneath the thick peel, the luscious mangosteen is an absolute treat to eat. You can cut through the peel with a knife, but be careful of juice stains. Use a fork or spoon to scoop out one of the interior segments (called an “aril”) and delight to the wonderfully strong burst of sweet & sour flavour. The juicy mangosteen’s silky flesh melts in your mouth, leaving behind a few dry fibres attached to the seed. Usually a luxury import in cold climates, mangosteens are widely available at a reasonable price in Thailand, so you can indulge all you want.
Rambutan (in Thai: Ngo): While this bright red fruit covered with rubbery hair may look like some kind of alien life form, it’s sweet and juicy with a restrained flavour that stays with you a long time. The rambutan comes with its own, cute serving container when the top half of the peel is removed. You simply hold the bottom half in your hand and nibble the slippery and slightly chewy flesh from the large seed. You can buy a bunch of rambutans in almost any market in Thailand and easily twist off the peel by hand. High season for rambutan is May through October, but you should be able to find them year round.
Roseapple (in Thai: Chompoo): Other than the peel’s red and green skin, the bell-shaped roseapple is nothing like the apples you enjoy back home. Similar to a pear in size and texture, it has a thin and edible skin. Roseapple flesh has a delightful crunch and is slightly fibrous. The fruit is very juicy, with a hint of rosewater and a mildly sour aftertaste that ends in a dry mouthfeel, making it the perfect choice if you prefer your fruit not too sweet. Roseapples are widely available throughout Thailand year round.
Salacca (In Thai: Sala): The oval-shaped sala, looking somewhat ominous due to the small, sharp barbs that cover the brittle red peel, belies the fruit’s slightly sweet flavour that is reminiscent of pink bubblegum. It’s easy but a bit painful to peel one with your bare hands – Thai people put sala in a strainer and shake them to scrape off the barbs. Inside, you’ll find one to three solidly-textured pieces of dark yellow flesh that have a pleasantly bold and slightly sweet taste.
Tamarind (In Thai: Makham): The provincial tree of Thailand’s Phetchabun province, the tamarind has a long, pod-like fruit with a thin, hard shell. While it’s often used as a flavouring in Thai cooking, the tamarind can be eaten raw for an unusual taste treat. It’s an easy purchase, as most tamarind in Thailand is sold in boxes. You simply crack off the shell to reveal the flesh, which looks like chocolate paste . Strip off the slightly acidic vein that runs down one side of the fruit, then nibble the thick and gooey flesh off the seeds that are inside. The taste is similar to dates, with a slightly sweet and sour tone and very rich.
Santol (In Thai: Krathon): Also known as sour apple, the santol is about the size of a grapefruit. Inside the thick peel, the fruit is divided into four or five segments of slippery, white pulp firmly attached to very large seeds. You can pop the segments out or bite into them like an orange. The pulp is firmly attached to the seed, so you need to suck out the tantalisingly tangy citric juice. Get ready for an initial burst of flavour with a nice long aftertaste. The giant seeds are slippery so be careful to avoid swallowing them.
In Thailand, even tropical fruits that you can get almost anywhere become exotic. For example, take coconut (In Thai: Maprow). A fresh coconut makes a great break during your busy day touring the Kingdom. In many places you can buy a whole, young coconut, often chilled on ice. The seller will lop off the top with a large knife and you can enjoy sipping the mild and clear coconut milk through a straw. When you’re done, use the spoon you were given to scoop out the thin layer of chewy, tender meat from the inside of the shell.
These are just a few of the luscious Thai fruits you can enjoy during your visit to Thailand. There are many more depending on the time of year that you’re here, and to which parts of the Kingdom you go. Ask any Thai person what local fruits you should try. They’ll be happy to make suggestions, show you where to get it, and probably even help you to pick out some of the best. You’ll be smiling yourself after your first bite into a mouth-watering piece of fresh and fantastic Thai tropical fruit.
Written by Steve Vincent