For expatriates who are new to the sunny island of Singapore, the wide variety of unusual tropical fruits available can be an eye-opener. Not only do they provide a valuable source of nutrients, these delicious and unusual fruits may be difficult if not impossible to find overseas and can form an unforgettable part of any expatriate’s diet here.
Widely acknowledged as the king of fruits across much of Southeast Asia, the thorny durian is infamous for its pungent fragrance and strong taste. Although the fruit is commonly recommended to foreign tourists looking to get a taste of real Singaporean food, it usually elicits mixed reactions due to its fragrance which has been said to remind some of rubbish, onions, decomposing food, and even petrol. Worse still, the smell can linger for days, and this has caused public transportation and hotels to ban people from bringing durian with them. However, this poses no problems for fans of the fruit who find the scent alluring and the meat of the fruit itself—a thick, creamy, and bittersweet custard—addictive.
The salak, more commonly known as the snakefruit, is an unusual fruit in the shape of a tear drop, with a tough and leathery appearance reminiscent of snakeskin. Native to Java and Sumatra in Indonesia, the fruit has become popular throughout Indonesia, and parts of Southeast Asia as well. While the taste of this fruit varies in sweetness depending on the variety, in general, the fruit has a tart sour-sweet flavour and a dry, slightly astringent taste.
Another fruit that’s native to Southeast Asia is the langsat—more commonly known by its Indonesian name of duku here in Singapore. The duku is the sweetest variant of the fruits in the langsat family, and is chockfull of nutrients like vitamin C and E. The fruit is slightly smaller than a golf ball, with a thin skin that can be peeled open easily. Inside, the juicy, sweet, and sour segments are wrapped around a single seed.
If you’ve ever eaten at a local catering event in Singapore, chances are, you might have tried longan before. This sweet and juicy fruit is available fresh and also as canned fruit. The canned fruit is commonly used in local desserts such as cheng tng, mini fruit tarts, and grass jelly with longan. When eaten fresh, the fruit contains plenty of vitamin C and is a healthier alternative since it doesn’t come in a sugary syrup.
Easily one of the most recognisable tropical fruits, the rambutan with its bright red shell and green hairs has a similar appearance to the sea urchin. When peeled, the fruit inside is bright white, and even slightly translucent like the longan or lychee. Apart from being deliciously juicy and sweet, the fruit contains a fair amount of fibre. The fibre is partly insoluble which allows it to pass through the digestive system and prevent constipation.
In both its unripe and ripe forms, the jackfruit is a versatile fruit that can be made into a wide variety of foods. When ripe, the fruit is aromatic and sweet, and can be eaten on its own, or as part of a dessert though this is more commonly seen in neighbouring SEA countries. The fruit is also dried or fried and made into jackfruit chips. Even the young jackfruit has benefits. It is commonly used as a meat substitute as the flesh has a mild taste and a chewy meat-like texture.
The fruit has a thick purple rind which can be broken apart easily when it is squeezed between the palms of both hands. Inside, the flesh is white and parts of it may even be translucent. This fruit has a distinctive sweet and sour taste, anti-inflammatory properties, and is also nutritious and antioxidant-rich.
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