14 November 2009

Fruit of the Day: Tumbo

While most of our food shopping so far has been done at outdoor markets, we did stop in at one supermarket in La Paz. That's where we picked up the tumbo. It's small and oval, a lovely pale yellow, and very subtly fuzzy.

I cut a tumbo open length-wise to discover a very pretty orange, passionfruit-like cluster of seeds and pulp. (Turns out another name for tumbo is banana passionfruit - how appropriate!) I tasted the fruit as I would passionfruit: by eating the pulp around the seeds. At first I wasn't a fan. The taste is mild but a bit chalky, and certainly not as juicy as I'd expected. A few more seeds in, though, and the tumbo was starting to win me over. I've since seen tumbos stacked up at juice stands and I'm curious to try them blended and strained and maybe mixed with a little sugar (or pineapple juice).
UFF Fruit Rating:

31 October 2009

Halloween FotD: Noni

A picture is worth a thousand words, and when I saw the noni at the central market in Cuzco, I knew it was the perfect fruit for Halloween. It looks horrifying, like one of those squishy eyeball-balls. When I squeezed it, it even felt like one of those squishy eyeball-balls.

At left, noni. At right, eyeball-ball. Horrifying all around.

And the noni's smell? Pungent, vile, and disgusting. To say the least.

Seriously guys, it's awful, and we could barely bring ourselves to try it.

Our dedication to FotD compelled us to taste the noni, albeit barely, and its taste lived up to its smell. Gross.

The woman at the market told us it's usually consumed as juice (obviously with a LOT of other flavours and/or sweeteners). She also said noni is used to cure cancer but Wikipedia reports that it was "explored unsuccessfully" for that use. However, "in Hawaii, ripe fruits are applied to draw out pus from an infected boil." How charming.
UFF Fruit Rating:

22 October 2009

Ceviche in Lima

On our last night in Rio with Frenchy and Dutchy (aka Audrey and Eric), we asked them for a list of the best (and worst) parts of their six months in South America. They recommended cities and sites to see (and some to avoid), and told us their favourite places to stay. In Lima, they had been the first guests of the brand-new Kokopelli Hostel. Audrey advised us to ask Paolo, one of the proprietors, to point us to the ceviche restaurant to which he had taken them. Paolo offered us one better: To take us there for lunch on Monday.

(First, though, on Friday night, we went to a club. I know: I'm too old for that shit. We went with a few people staying at the hostel, all decked out in our best backpacker chic. At one point someone commented, "I'd never wear this to a club at home," to which I replied, "I'd never go to a club at home." It's true.)

Anyway, Monday rolled around and we were both very excited for lunch. Paolo rounded up a group of about 15 people from the hostel to join the festivities, and we piled into a few taxis to go to the neighbourhood of Barranco. Once there, he led us into a little market, past stalls selling raw chickens (with the feet still attached!) and even a little barber shop. The "restaurant" was a bunch of plastic tables under tarps, and we assembled enough chairs to fit our posse. We unanimously agreed that Paolo should order for all of us, and soon food started appearing on the tables.

We started out with chicha morada, a sweet and very tasty dark-purple juice that's made from purple corn. Small metal bowls of salted, roasted corn kernels also appeared on the table. We snacked on those until our first course arrived: A bowl of almost-clear broth with a mussel in each bowl and a generous sprinkling of cilantro leaves on top. It was refreshing and flavourful (especially with the addition of squeeze of lime and a rather potent hotsauce), and the mussel was particularly good.

Next came a dish called tiradito apaltado. Tiradito is like ceviche (fish marinated in lemon or lime juice with onions), but sometimes with oil in the marinade, and without onions. This particular tiradito was served with corn, a hunk of sweet potato, and half an avocado on top. The fish was incredibly fresh-tasting and the avocado was one of the best I've ever had, fresh and perfectly ripe. While we were devouring the tiradito, plates of crispy fried seafood (pescado frito) arrived, garnished with yuca fries and a bowl of mayonnaise for dipping. These were a mix of calamari, shrimp, and other fishy bits that had been battered and fried.

We continued the feast with ceviche - once again a mix of seafood, this time marinated in citrus and garnished with sweet red onions and more sweet potato. I loved the tiradito (especially the avocado) but the ceviche was probably my favourite dish. The fish was sweet and a little bit salty and oh-so-tender, and the thin slices of onion and sprinkling of corn added a perfect crunch.

Just when we thought we were winding down, two rice dishes appeared. One was very similar to seafood-fried rice, only not there was definitely no need to fight over the shrimp. The other was more like seafood risotto, with a lighter flavour than the fried rice but still packed full of fishy goodness. I limited myself to small portions of those (both were delicious!) so I could finish the remaining ceviche for dessert, and Ken busied himself with the leftover fried bits from the pescado frito.

Finally, Paolo announced the grand total: 14 soles (about $5) each, including tip. And we thought beef was cheap in Argentina!

More pics on in our Peru set on Flickr.

21 October 2009

Fruit of the Day: Pepino Melon

When I was in university, my roommate Lee used to exclaim "Babaghanoush!" whenever he realized something or even completed a task, kind of like you might use "Eureka!" or "Voilà!" At the time I had even more limited experience with international cuisine, and I thought Lee was just using a nonsense word. One day, while looking for hummus, I came across an unfamiliar product and sounded out the word on the label and had a similar "eureka!" moment when I realized I was looking at babaghanoush!

Today's fruit isn't an eggplant, but it does have lovely eggplant-coloured markings. I didn't buy the pepino melon on our first few trips to the grocery store, but I kept coming back to it. Its skin feels amazingly smooth and almost velvety, like a matte-finish photo.

I sliced it open and was surprised to find the inside hollow, with nary a seed in sight. The fruit itself is about an inch thick. It smelled sweet, like a ripe honeydew melon. When I cut off a smaller slice to try some, the skin peeled off easily, like that of a tomato that's been blanched. The texture is similar to a honeydew as well, and the first bite was sweet and mild and melony. As I finished the slice I identified a feint peppery aftertaste, and it suddenly occurred to me that pepino melon translates to pepper melon. Babaghanoush!
UFF Fruit Rating:

20 October 2009

Fruit of the Day: Cocona

I chose the cocona for its irresistible orangeness. It reminds me of a yellow pepper, and its stem is a little like that of a persimmon. The cocona also has skin similar to a persimmon, and is about as squishy as a very underripe tomato (read: not very).

I sliced it open to find a pale yellow insides with lots of small, soft seeds, kind of like tiny cucumber seeds. The cocona is very tart! The pulp around the seeds is juicy, but the fruit between the center and the skin is much firmer. I shared some with a couple who was in the kitchen with me. The girl thought it was like a fruity-vegetable (or a vegetabley-fruit) and the guy comment, "It's quite sharp, isn't it?" Indeed. I suspect I'd prefer the cocona juiced with a little sugar.
UFF Fruit Rating:

P.S. I LOVE comments on FotD - I learn as much from you guys as I do from trying the new fruits! Thanks, and keep 'em coming!

19 October 2009

Fruit of the Day: Tuna Roja

Before we get to today's fruit, I have to once again sing the praises of Peru's fruit. There are more new varieties than I know what to do with, and when we're craving something familiar, the options are plentiful and cheap. To wit: Here is a picture of 50¢ worth of strawberries:

They were fragrant, sweet, and delicious.

The tuna roja isn't a fish, I promise. It's a fruit, and one you might even recognize: In North America, it's more commonly known as the prickly pear. There were three prickly pear varieties available: roja (red), amarilla (yellow), and verde (green). A prickly pear traffic light! I don't remember why we chose red, but maybe because it looked the weirdest.

Without consulting the intarwebs, I wasn't sure how exactly to approach the tuna roja. I decided to slice it vertically, and was very excited when I found its insides to be as red as a beet!

I scooped out a spoonful of the juicy red insides and found the tuna to be full of tiny, hard seeds. The fruit itself is mild-tasting and not super-sweet. It's refreshing but I found it nondescript (as you may have gathered from my non-description). The seeds were too small to spit out so I just swallowed them, and they were inoffensive.
UFF Fruit Rating:

18 October 2009

Fruit of the Day: Granadilla

We found today's fruit, the granadilla, in the vast citrus section of the even vaster produce section in our grocery store in Lima, Peru. I chose it for its lovely orange colour and the long stem attached to each fruit in the bin. As an added bonus, it cost all of 0.49 soles (about $0.17!).

The granadilla isn't exactly squishy like an orange. It's shell is kind of hard and you can push a dent into it with your finger (a handy trait if you want to create a little flat spot on which to rest the granadilla for a photo op). When you shake it, it sounds like there's something shaking around inside. When I cut it open, its skin (which is really more like a shell) cracked open (not unlike breaking a cracker) to reveal seeds and pulp--seeds and pulp that looked suspiciously like the insides of a passion fruit!

The granadilla is probably best eaten blended and strained, but I was impatient so I just slurped up a few pulpy seeds. It was delicious! The pulp tasted like a super-sweet combination of orange and passion fruit juices, and the seeds were small enough to be inoffensive--I just crunched them up along with the juice.
UFF Fruit Rating:

17 October 2009

Fruit of the Day: Chirimoya

Yesterday we arrived in Lima, Peru, and today we spent a good half an hour exploring the fruit section of the grocery store. It was all I could do to not blow our entire day's budget on new and exciting produce. Kernels of corn are huge, like, a regular-sized cob of corn has 8 GIANT rows. And I counted at least 11 different kinds of potatoes!

Back to fruit. After much hemming and hawing, we decided to buy a chirimoya. It's closely related to the hand-grenade-shaped pinha, which was one of the weirdest-looking and most delicious fruits we'd ever tried. The chirimoya was much-hyped in my extensive fruit-research on the intarwebs, and it's from Peru! And we're in Peru! Hooray!

Even though we bought what felt like the ripest specimen, I suspect our chirimoya was a bit under-ripe. It was delicious and custardy, like the pinha, but a little harder than we expected. We did convince two skeptical Canadian girls to try it, and they thought it tasted like dessert!

UFF Fruit Rating: (Subject to change when we try a riper fruit)

28 September 2009

Fruits of the Day: Late-Summer Berries

We're back in NY for two weeks; two weeks that are going by way too quickly. This past weekend I enjoyed my favourite Saturday morning ritual: A rendez-vous with my friend Vicki at the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket in Brooklyn. I felt like a kid in a candy store. Browsing the late-summer/early-fall harvest (green beans! tomatoes! Jersey peaches!) was the first time I felt a pang about our current nomadism: Even if we had unlimited counter and fridge space, our overbooked schedule doesn't include a lot of time for cooking.

I settled for small quantities of the aforementioned green beans and tomatoes, and a couple of inimitable apple cider donuts. I also couldn't resist a few containers of what were probably among the last berries of the season. There were samples available of both blackberries and raspberries, and when Vicki tried the former she remarked, "That tastes like it should cure something." In other words, they were a little tart. I mixed some of the raspberries into my Greek yogurt for dessert last night and this afternoon made the rest into Baked's Raspberry Breakfast Bars, recipe and inspiration via Smitten Kitchen. It didn't seem like I had quite enough berries to cover the bottom layer of the bars so I chopped up a peach and threw it in there as well.

The verdict? The house smelled so good while they were baking that I could hardly wait for them to cool when I took them out of the oven. And they're delicious: Sweet and buttery and slightly tart. The bars are a little wetter than I'd have liked, especially since I plan to transport them to friends' places for dessert tonight and "breakfast" tomorrow morning (if there are any left - Ken also seems to like them!), but that's why god invented Tupperware. And forks.
UFF Fruit Rating:

12 September 2009

Fruit of the Day: Figo

We recently spent a very rainy day in Puerto Alegre, Brazil. We arrived at 8:30 a.m. and headed immediately to the central market, where our trusty Lonely Planet assured us we'd be able to dine at any number of restaurants and also buy delicious ice cream. We spent the morning drinking coffee and playing cards, and around lunchtime we wandered into one of the extraordinarily well-stocked fruit stands to see what we could find for FotD.

There were a bunch of new fruits, including some that we had to pass up because they were either sold only in large quantities or were just simply too large--like this guy, the unwieldy jaca (Jackfruit in English):

We settled on three different fruits, the first of which is the figo, which you undoubtedly recognize as a fig.

We're both fans of dried figs (ideally stuffed with a hunk of manchego and wrapped in proscuitto), but neither of us had tried fresh figs before. They're smooth and firm, but with a bit of squishiness. We cut one open and found its insides to be delightfully pink and seedy. Behold:

The flavour was nowhere near as intense as a dried fig, and I don't know that I'd even have been able to recognize the taste if I hadn't known what I was eating. It was very mild. The texture was the most familiar part - the seeds were unmistakeably figgy.

UFF Fruit Rating:

01 August 2009

The Pork Sandwich

Not long after we arrived in Buenos Aires, we found ourselves in a largely-expat bar watching college basketball next to a porteño named Abel. Fortunately for everyone, especially us, Abel speaks English fluently and told us about all the best places in the city to eat. Most importantly, he told us about his favourite pork sandwich, which is available at a small parrilla near the entrance to the ecological reserve.

As today was our penultimate Saturday in Buenos Aires, we finally decided to go on our pork pilgrimage. On the bus to the ecological reserve, we realized that we didn't know exactly which parrilla in the ecological reserve would have the fabled sandwich, so Ken texted Abel.

Ken: Hey, we're on the lookout for the legendary pork sandwich. How do we recognize the right stand?

Abel: It is the second one from the entrance of the ecological reserve. Mi parrillon or el parrillon. Who is this?

Ken told him it was us asking, to which Abel replied, "I thought so. Pork sandwich is an important matter. Only put chimichurri." He also advised us to get a choripán.

We found the parrilla, like an oasis in the dessert, only instead of water, it was full of delicious, delicious meat. We ordered the super bondiolita al limon - the super pork sandwich with lemon. The dude working at the parrilla sliced strips of pork off of a hunk, then put them on the hot grill and squirted lemon juice on top. After turning them a few times, he put the grilled strips on a warm roll and we slathered it with chimichurri. The sandwich was a study in delicious contrasts. The meat was juicy and perfectly cooked and salty and sweet, like all good pork should be. The bun was soft and crusty and perfectly absorbed the excess juices. Needless to say, our pork sandwich didn't last long.

We had a choripán for dessert.

30 July 2009

Fruit of the Day: Nêspera

We've been back in Buenos Aires, and unfortunately, winter, for almost two weeks. Despite an ample supply of fresh fruit (including many delicious citrus varieties - the mandarins here are amazing!) at our local verdularía, we miss our regular expeditions to the grocery store in Brazil, in which we rarely came home without a new and exotic fruit.

Like the nêspera, which also goes by loquat.

A loquat is about the same colour as an apricot, is shaped like a pear, and is fuzzier than a peach. How summery!

Inside, a loquat contains beautiful seeds that look like polished wood.

The skin was very easy to peel off, making it that much easier to eat this tasty little fruit. The loquat's flavour is mild and vaguely reminiscent of a pear, maybe one that was spritzed with honey. A little fuzzy honey-spritzed pear. And I suspect it would make a delicious jam, with very little sugar added.

Summery, indeed.
UFF Fruit Rating:

26 July 2009

Fruit of the Day: Jatobá

Based on various descriptions I read on the interwebs, a snippet of the jatobá's Zagat review might read something like this:
This fruit has an "offensive" odour "similar to strong cheese". It is sometimes called "stinking toe" because of its smell.


The jatobá (also called "Brazilian cherry," even though as far as I could tell there is nothing cherry-like about it) looks like a giant tamarind, and its pods are very hard. So hard that they're used to make wood! And so hard that, to crack one open, I had to put it under the leg of a chair, and then not just sit on the chair (...nothing!) but actually stomp my foot on the seat, at which point the jatobá pod finally gave in.

The flesh, if you could call it that, was quite dry, almost like plaster. It surround two very hard seeds. And I can confirm that the jatobá did, indeed, smell quite strong. I tasted a bit of it, and looks (and smell) were not deceiving: Jatobá tastes like pungent plaster.

I'm glad for its sake that it turns into nice-looking wood.
UFF Fruit Rating:

25 July 2009

Fruit of the Day: Membrillo

A very common dessert here in Buenos Aires is queso y dulce, which just means "cheese and sweet". The dulce in question is a very thick jam, so thick that it's sliceable, made of either membrillo or batata (sweet potato). You might be more familiar with the English name for dulce de membrillo: quince paste. It's commonly served in Spain with manchego cheese, and it is delicious. And until now, I had no idea it was made from fruit!

Fruit that looks a lot like a pear, both inside and out.

The membrillo, or quince, is very hard, and was much harder to cut than a pear. At one point I thought it had a big pit because it was so difficult to get my knife through the center. It does taste vaguely like a pear, with almost the exact texture of a potato. Ken had a strong (negative) reaction to its texture and starchiness. I was less offended, and even kind of liked it. I don't think quince is generally eaten raw, so I'm going to try my hand at making quince paste with the remainder of our FotD.
UFF Fruit Rating:

20 July 2009

Fruit of the Day: Kimkam

¡Hola amigos! As you may have gathered with your superior sleuthing skills, we're back in Buenos Aires. Just in case you weren't sure, I have included our handy adventure map (at left. Click to enlarge). There is a small correction on that map: It should read "Gillian & Ken Return to Winter".

I'm very excited about today's fruit. It's called kimkam, which is Portuguese for kumquat, which I've heard all about but never seen before. Kumquats look like tiny oranges. Inside, they have very pretty little green seeds. Better still, kumquats are delicious! I ate a few with the peel, which is extremely fragrant, and a few without, which was more trouble than it was worth. I skipped the inside part surrounding the seeds, but my good friend Wikipedia tells me that the whole fruit can be eaten, with the sour/salty inside providing a contrast to the sweeter outer rind.

On top of all that, the name "kinkan" reminds me of Kon Kan, a band I loved in high school. In fact, I didn't know until just this moment that Kon Kan is Canadian! The kimkam has already taught me so much, and now this. Thank you, kimkam.
UFF Fruit Rating:

19 July 2009

Fruit of the Day: Graviola

In late-reporting districts, graviola (soursop in English) tied things up with cupuaçu in last week's FotD poll, so here he is, in all his glory:

I'd seen a lot of graviola-flavoured ice cream and juice when we were in Salvador, but never the fruit itself, so I was pretty excited when we came across this guy at a fruit stand in Brasília. He's a big fellow, and probably weighed in at a kilo or more. We carried him around in a backpack the day we bought him, and by the end of the day we'd grown quite fond of today's fruit and had even nicknamed him Little Gravi. He sat in our hostel room overnight and we continued to marvel at his weirdness.

The day after we bought him, we sliced him open. We knew he was related to our beloved pinha, so we were quite excited to try him out. Unfortunately, Little Gravi didn't live up to our (albeit lofty) expectations. Graviola has a simlar creamy texture to both the pinha and the cupuaçu, but it wasn't nearly as sweet and custardy. I did later try sweetened graviola juice, and it tasted a lot more like pinha, and I'm sure I could be persuaded to try graviola ice cream, you know, if the opportunity presented itself.
UFF Fruit Rating:

18 July 2009

Fruit of the Day: Açai

It wouldn't have been a trip to Brazil without sampling some açai. Açai isn't available fresh - apparently the berries don't last for much more than 24 hours after they're harvested, so they're processed (frozen or freeze-dried) immediately after they're picked. In Brazil, açai is readily available frozen as açai na tigela, though, which simply means açai in a bowl. The options for açai na tigela are plentiful: You can get it mixed with any one of another delicious fruit, and/or topped with fruit salad, sliced bananas, or granola.

We had açai na tigela twice. The first time was at a salad/juice bar along the coast in Salvador, where we ordered it blended with mango. The medium-sized bowl was huge, and came with a little packet of granola to pour on top. The second time was at a mall in Brasília, where we ordered it with sliced bananas and granola on top. I also sampled the frozen açai pulp (it overpowered any other fruit with which I mixed it) and a drink called Guaraviton, a soft drink that's a blend of guaraná (yet another fruit) and açai. (Straight-up guaraná is a popular soda flavour in Brazil. It apparently has more caffeine than Coke, and tastes a lot like cream soda. I love it.)

As I mentioned, açai na tigella is served frozen, like sherbet, and is very dark purple. It almost tastes like frozen raspberries, or like a blend of berries - in other words, it's delicious! We both preferred the second bowl, sans mango, which may have been in part because it was garnished with a piece of papaya in the shape of a heart. I certainly can't confirm any weight-loss claims made by proponents of açai, but that may be because açai was often sold right next to irresistable Brazilian pão de queijo (cheese bread).
UFF Fruit Rating:

17 July 2009

Fruit of the Day: Cupuaçu

The results are in, and today's fruit is the cupuaçu!

A few weeks ago in Salvador I ate a chocolate filled with cupuaçu. It was tasty, but mixed with the chocolate it was hard to taste the fruit's flavour very distinctly. There was frozen cupuaçu pulp at the supermarket, but I never bought it, mostly because I could never resist the strawberry pulp. I was also kind of holding out for the fruit itself, but had mostly given up until we passed a fruit stand right here in Brasília with a whole stack of these monstrosities.

The cupuaçu looks like a huge potato, and it's outer shell is very, very hard, like wood. When we bought it, the guy at the fruit stand mimed for us how we should crack it open against concrete. We carried it to the park with us, and after we'd had our fill of jabuticabas, we decided to crack open the cupuaçu.

The insides looked like BRAINS!, only smoother. It separated pretty naturally into two sections where the seeds were held together by really light yellow, dense pulp. We dug right in and were both very pleasantly surprised: Cupuaçu tastes like mild lemon custard, with a texture similar to that of our beloved pinha. It's delicious! We found the pulp furthest from each seed to be the sweetest, and it was more vinegary closer to the seed, so we mostly stuck to the edges. We polished off half of the fruit before packing up the rest in its own handy carrying case to bring home for later.
UFF Fruit Rating: