Saturday, January 02, 2010

Resolve: Try New Things Like the Mangosteen

For my first post in 2010, I thought it would be appropriate to focus on a new food adventure. And this is an adventure that I’ve been trying to do since I visited Vietnam nearly three years ago.

One of the most exotic fruits from that part of the world is called the mangosteen. Walking the streets in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, I would see old women balancing baskets filled with these fruits on a bamboo pole. But I never bought one because even in Vietnam these tiny fruits were pretty pricey.

Back in the States, the mangosteen was touted as the new fruit to try. And a couple of years ago, it was approved to be imported into the United States for the first time. Of course, it was still pricey because it was still rare to find.

I think because not too many people have rushed to buy the mangosteen, the price is beginning to inch down a bit. So this past week when I was shopping at Ranch 99, I saw the mangosteen being sold for $5.99 per pound. And their bags had just a handful of mangosteens to keep the price down.

I grabbed the lightest bag with about six mangosteens in it and that still cost me about $7. Still, that’s not too bad of an investment to try a new food experience, especially one that I’ve been waiting to do for a few years.

Now the trick about eating the mangosteen is that it’s one hard nut to crack. What I mean by that is the mangosteen’s shell is as hard as a nut. And to open it, I had to use a serrated knife and slowly saw my way around the fruit.

It took awhile to saw my way deep enough so that I could split the fruit in half and get to the pearly white flesh in the center. The fruit looks a bit like membrane or a brain. It has a soft texture, and is segmented like a tangerine. After carefully removing it from its protective shell, the mangosteen fruit was almost like a lychee but not as sweet. It had almost a banana essence to it, and reminded me a lot of other tropical fruits from Asia.

While the flavor is something unique and different, it’s not something that I would travel far to taste once again. Nor is it something I would spend minutes sawing away at just to get rewarded with a tiny fleshy fruit. If someone cracked it for me and handed it over, I wouldn’t object to eating it. But to do it yourself, you really have to love the fruit. And I can’t say that I love the mangosteen.

What’s worse is that my bag of mangosteens included a few rotten ones. So imagine after minutes of tirelessly sawing at the tough shell, I crack it open to fine a rotten fruit. Talk about a downer.

Despite all the work to taste a mangosteen, I did find it to be a wonderful model like other of my favorite fruits. It was also really interesting that every mangosteen had a natural embossed bottom in the shape of a flower. It was almost like a manufacturer's brand, but this was something that naturally occurred when the mangosteen develops.

So while I didn’t get a whole lot of satisfaction from my bag of mangosteens, I did get some pretty pictures out of it, don’t you think? And at least I’m living up to my New Year’s resolution of discovering new tastes. Now I can scratch the mangosteen off my list.

Food Gallery of other fruits:
Shinko Asian Pears


Hungry Dog said...

Nice photos, Ben! I've always been so curious about the's so beautiful and strange looking. Your description makes it sound like a lot of work, but I would give it a go. Guess I need to make a trek to Ranach 99 one day soon (is there ANYTHING they don't have there?)

Ravenous Couple said...

we love mangosteens--our favorite "exotic" fruit. They are so wonderful in Vietnam and we ate them ever chance we got. Nice photos and great way to start the year!

Carroll said...

My daughter-in-law is from Vietnam, and has mentioned that she *loves* mangosteens. Her birthday is coming up, and this is a great tip, Ben. Ranch 99, here I come :-)

Single Guy Ben said...

Hungry Dog, Carroll, be sure not to buy the rotten ones. I can't give any tips about which ones might be rotten, but I'm guessing the darker the color, the older it is. That's just a guess.

Ravenous couple, I'm amazed you tried so many mangosteen in Vietnam. Do you travel with a saw? Because I wouldn't have been able to open the mangosteen on my own in my hotel room without some heavy hardware. ;-)

Kim said...

Have you been to the restaurant

Single Guy Ben said...

Kim, if you're talking about the restaurant called Mangosteen in the Tenderloin, yes, I went to it awhile back when it first opened. Cute place but I wasn't blown away by the food. The pho was just OK.

Nate @ House of Annie said...

Fresh mangosteens are one of my favorite fruit! So delighful. The ones you got at 99 Ranch were bad because they've been picked before they were ripe and traveled thousands of miles to get to you. By the time you got them, they were probably dried out, tough, and starting to rot. You have to eat them fresh.

Another thing about fresh mangosteens is, you don't need a knife to cut them open. You can just press the fruit hard, between your palms. The shell will crack open and then you can peel it off. Don't get any of the sap on your clothes though - the stain won't come out.

But, you don't have to travel thousands of miles in our direction to get fresh mangosteens. They are being grown in California, down around Lancaster in SoCal! Yep, I saw them at the San Carlos Farmer's Market last summer.

Single Guy Ben said...

Nate/Annie, someone else just emailed me about how easy it is to open a mangosteen, and I was like, really? Because mines were hard as a rock. So what you say makes sense, it must be the importing and traveling issues. (Another reason for eating local!) I guess I should have taken advantage of the mangosteens while in Vietnam instead of being a tightwad. But now I have to keep my eyes out for the locally grown ones (although San Carlos seems just as far when you don't have a car!).

Carroll said...

Wow -- really helpful information here. Thanks, people! I'm reconsidering the whole "picked un-ripe and transported for miles mangosteen as adjunct birthday gift" concept. Having been burned many times on "winter peaches" (they look so good on the outside, but they are *so* disappointing on the inside) idea, but will put "look for mangosteens at farmer's markets" on my summer "to do" list.

Much appreciated!