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 "VoilĂ !" 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)