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While many have savoured a bowl of Southeast Asia’s celebrated noodle and rice dishes, not everyone is as well acquainted with the many fruits and vegetables that form a cornerstone of the region’s cuisine. Prepare your palate for some unusual-looking, delicious-tasting fruits and vegetables unique to Southeast Asia.
The infamous durian often scares people away with its pungent smell, considered so bad by some that it’s banned in airplanes, hotels and public buildings in several countries. However high you stick up your nose, local people cannot get enough of this fruit. If you’re looking to ease yourself into it, start with durian ice cream or smoothies and dip your taste buds into a world of acquired taste.
Native to Southeast Asia, the rose apple is said to have many health benefits including protection against diabetes. Rose apples are not related to apples, despite their deceivingly similar name. Rose apples are most similar to guavas. Rose apples are only mildly sweet, and they are bursting with both moisture and crunchiness.
This attractive purple fruit is oftentimes called ‘the queen of fruits’ and for good reason. Just the right amount of sweet and sour white flesh sit inside a regal purple orb, offering a mouthwatering sensation at a very affordable price. Delicious.
Bamboo shoots are a seasonal delicacy, typically used in delicious curries. Visitors can also get fresh, stir-fried bamboo shoots at a number of different restaurants which are sauteed to a palatable texture. The U.S. imports bamboo shoots from Thailand, as well as China and Taiwan.
Do not let Rambutan’s spiky and hair-like exterior scare you. Peel back its rind and you will find a fleshy, complex fruit inside with a taste and texture similar to grapes. Be wary of the large pit in the centre before chowing down.
Originating in China, lychees are some of the most popular fruit in Southeast Asia. Once peeled, the fruit reveals a white, sweet interior, that is the fruit equivalent of rich and creamy dessert. Visitors will find lychee drinks in every 7/11 shop and convenience store, with floating chunks of this sweet, rubbery fruit.
Unique to South and Southeast Asia, pomelos are similar to grapefruits (but so much more complex). One of the best ways to enjoy a pomelo is in one of Thailand’s famous pomelo salads. The sweet pomelo is combined with chilis, lime, and peanuts, creating a burst of differing, interesting flavors in every bite. It is also commonly used in desserts.
Grown in abundance in Vietnam, dragon fruit have eye-catching bright pink exteriors similar to what some consider dragon scales. The fruit is incredibly refreshing, with a light, white inside spotted with crispy black seeds. In addition to being delicious, you can chow down on this guilt-free, as it is filled with vitamins, nutrients, and is very low in calories.
Unlike many of the other fruits and vegetables on our list, the longan’s exterior is mundane, at best. That being said, its insides are bursting with sweet, white flesh. This is a great fruit to grab on-the-go or for those looking for a light snack. Longans can be peeled by hand and are incredibly cheap to buy by the bag.
Langsat is one of the sweetest and most delicious fruits grown in Southeast Asia. Its translucent, white interior is bursting with flavor, and similar in taste to the grapefruit.
This list would not be complete without the addition of Thai chilies. Red chilis are certainly the most popular, but visitors will also find both yellow and green chilies making appearances in many dishes. Be warned: Thai people love spicy food. Many meals will leave visitors tearing up and in frantic need of naam (water).
Thai eggplants usually vary in shape, size, and color but this vegetable is usually circular and small, with a bright green exterior. It is most notable for its appearance in Thailand’s famous green curry dish, but is also used in cooking throughout the region. Thai eggplants are usually quite crunchy, but they become soft and filled with flavor when cooked.
A member of the ginger family is galanga, oftentimes known as galangal. It is a popular root found in many Southeast Asian dishes, and it oftentimes takes the place of ginger entirely. This rhizome can be very hard and almost wood-like, depending on how ripe it is.