I used to think that pears were the bomb! And then I came to America. Funny thing here is that apples and pears are abundant. What about the fruits I grew up with? Jackfruit? Nees berries? Custard apple? Guava? Where are those? I will talk about fruits and the reason for this post, but let’s start off with something simple. Coconuts.
Growing up in India, in the hot and humid climate, when we were thirsty we found a coconut vendor on the street. Coconuts are such a treat. A guy with a machete knife, will cut through the top of the coconut, make about a one inch diameter opening into the coconut, stick a straw into it and there you were, drinking nature’s best electrolyte filled thirst quencher. It doesn’t end there. After you are done with the drink, you return the coconut to the vendor; another strike with the machete knife right through the center of the coconut. One more cut with the machete to slice a piece of husk, used to release the coconut jelly and also used as a spoon for the jelly. That’s how you do coconuts!
I’ve been to Thailand, Jamaica, St. Lucia, and Ecuador; yes, same story. There’s a right way to do coconuts and then there are variations. Well, in Cozumel, Mexico, the coconut story varies a bit. Yes, there’s the coconut, yes, there’s a machete and yes, you drink the coconut water with a straw. Oh! And the coconut water was the sweetest that I have ever tasted or can remember; and yes you return the husk to the vendor to prepare for the coconut jelly. Except, in Cozumel, the vendor offered to spice the jelly with a mixture of chilly powder, lime and salt. I have to say, that was my first time and it was out of this world. It was really good. I can buy that variation for coconuts. Why not? If it’s better, I say, go with it.
And then there’s America! Coconut vendors aren’t on street corners here; It’s hard enough to find a vendor. So, walking outside the Hemingway home in Key West, Florida, there was a woman selling coconuts. My eyes lit up. Coconuts? In America? Of course, I went. $5 for a coconut. Yes, overpriced, but it’s such a rare thing. So, my husband and I asked for 2 coconuts. The woman picked up a couple of coconuts and before I could scan for the machete, she pulled out a wireless DeWatt drill. Yes, a drill! She bore a hole into the coconut with a 1/4″ bit or something and stuck a straw into it. I don’t remember much else. I drank the coconut water, but I was more in shock at the drill than the coconut or a street vendor in America at that point! OK. There are other ways to get into a coconut. I’m learning. I’m not impressed, but I’m learning.
I finish the water and return the coconut to her to open for the coconut jelly. The coconut jelly is half the thrill of having a coconut. How was she going to open it up I wondered? I didn’t see a chop saw there on the street! Well, unfortunately, the story ends here. She said she can only drill into it for the water. 2 coconut jellies; wasted! It’s like one threw away perfectly good food. Yes, she didn’t have a chop saw and you couldn’t “plug it in” in the middle of a street, but she should have been using a machete knife in the first place! I’m disappointed and disturbed at the waste of food; And my $5 coconut, did not include the jelly, so essentially, I paid even more for the coconut than I had originally thought. Yes, I would have still bought the coconut and drank the water, but it’s just the principle of it. If there’s a job worth doing, it’s worth doing well. That’s the bottom line. If you want to open a coconut, learn how to do it the right way.
I did say I was learning, right? Well, I guess I wasn’t. This is where the Jackfruit story comes in. When you live in America and haven’t had certain fruits or drinks, you crave it. Especially when it’s available in the store, you want to go right out and get it. Any taste of it. Exotic fruits, the fruits I grew up with and took for granted before I came to this country are just so rare; you crave it. When I get wind that jackfruit was being sold at the local Whole Foods Store, I was excited. Jackfruit? Really? Just recently a friend of mine had posted a picture of jackfruit on Facebook and I was jealous and already craving the fruit. So, yes, I went to Whole Foods. I should have known that the average American doesn’t understand exotic fruits. Didn’t I learn my lesson in Key West?
I had jackfruit in Jamaica 2 years ago, so it hasn’t been years, but I’m still craving it. Incidentally, Jamaica is the place for fruits. OMG amazing. I want to return to Jamaica just to eat the fruits. They are sweeter than any other country I remember, including Thailand and Thailand is also known for their fruits! I’m digressing. Back to Whole Foods. So, here I am in Whole foods, and they have slices of the whole jackfruit! I mean, the whole fruit was in one inch slices! They were treating it like a watermelon! Yes, it’s the same size as a watermelon, but this is a completely different animal! No, the pods were not separated and I tried to explain to the guy who worked there that jackfruit should be sold by the pods or larger wedges. He looked at me and said, “Well, people use the other parts of the jackfruit, like the white stuff!” Really? This is news to me. I have never heard of that. It’s like saying, people eat the banana peel. OK, the white stuff is not totally the peel, but it’s just the fibers that hold the pods (the main edible parts of the fruit) together. The guy asked me if I wanted to buy a whole jackfruit and with just myself and my husband, I said no! I decided to buy a couple of slices, for what it was worth. Maybe I could find a few half pods in there, I thought. So, yes, there was a few half pods. I would say off the 8 – 9 half pods, only 4 were half way maybe sweet. The rest were tasteless. I might as well have been eating the white fibers. There may have been no difference in taste at that point! I did boil the remaining seeds and those were surprisingly alright. I don’t know. I haven’t had boiled jackfruit seeds in over 15 years, so maybe my reference point has shifted by now? Don’t know. I do know this. In America, when it comes to fruit, we need to stick to apples, oranges and pears. If I’m looking for exotic, I need to buy it from a vendor who understands the fruit.
The reason I mention a vendor who understands the fruit is because in Chicago, in Devon Avenue, where there are a lot of desi stores, they sell fresh sugar cane juice. Yes, it tastes like the original and it’s good. So, I can’t down everything in America – just people who don’t understand or take the time to truly learn what the fruits are and how it’s served.
Other than the obvious spoof on Americans doing exotic fruit, I guess I want to say that if you are in Cozumel, drink the coconut water and eat the coconut jelly with the spices. It’ll add to your experiences. And in Jamaica, their jackfruit is sweet as sweet can be. Don’t miss it there!
Until next time,