A Field Guide to Guangzhou Fruit Shops
by Nathan Rioux
In China, there is a strong emphasis on physical health and maintaining a proper diet. Part of this regimen is the concept of treating fruit as a dessert. In the USA, big chocolate cakes or brownies topped with ice cream are the go-to choices. But that kind of dessert is more of a guilty treat or a way to splurge for a night out. What if dessert (or pudding for you Brits) was meant to be a healthy course?
Fruits are limited in the West. Most grocery stores have the popular stuff like oranges, apples and bananas… and that’s it. It doesn’t seem to have the variety of the fruit shops in Guangzhou.
Here I’m going to introduce to you five of the more unique fruits that I have seen around. I’ve even replaced dessert with them a few times and have felt satisfied and refreshed.
1. Durian – the nightmarish, illegal in some places, “king of fruits” (榴莲 liú lián)
For the uninitiated, durian stinks. It has been compared to the smell of a gym bag, rotting meat, and turpentine. It is a huge spikey ball shape and when you break it open soft yellow pieces can be scooped out of the rind. For how big it is, it doesn’t yield much fruit. The texture is mushy and likened to chicken fat, but it has a strange sweet taste that coats your mouth and kind of dampens the foul smell. It is definitely an acquired taste, but I’ve grown to enjoy it frozen, when the texture is a bit harder. I don’t think they are allowed on planes, and in Thailand buses have signs for “no durian” next to the “no smoking” signs.
2. Rose Apple aka Wax Jambu or Syzygium samarangense (莲雾 lián wù)
These interesting little bell shaped “berries” are delicious. They have a crisp flesh like a mix between a dry apple and a juicy pear. The waxy red skin gives it a bit of texture and they have very small seeds so nearly the whole thing can be eaten. I was served a plate of these after dinner once and devoured nearly half the bowl. Another small tidbit: the flowers are used in Chinese medicine to treat fever and stop diarrhea.
3. Long Zhu Guo – maybe a member of the Pitaya family? (龙珠果 lóng zhū guo)
I actually can’t find an English name for this anywhere. In the dictionary it says “pitaya” but when I search that word I only find pictures of dragon fruit. (Editor’s note: these are also sometimes referred to as ‘ground cherries in the West) This name translates to “dragon pearl fruit”. These little yellow balls can be compared to a sweeter tomato. They have the same type of skin and are quite juicy if you bite them open. I just eat them whole, though.
4. Purple Mangosteen – Active ingredient in VEMMA energy drinks! (山竹 shān zhú)
One of my favorite finds in China. This Indonesian fruit is delicious and kind of fun to eat. You can use a knife to cut the skin around the middle, like you are cutting an equator on the fruit. Then twist off the top to reveal the big white slices. I have found some to be bruised or yellow, but when you get a good one they are amazing. The pit is sometimes soft enough to just eat with the rest of it, but I usually just spit it out. Though there is no evidence that the juices can be effective treatments, different parts of the plant are used in traditional medicine to treat skin infections, dysentery and urinary tract infections.
5. Salak – Creepy snake fruit (蛇皮果 shé pí guo)
The salak is an odd fruit to say the least. Maybe even stranger than durian. It actually feels like it has snake skin. Scales. They look like snake scale covered figs. They have three sections that have a pit inside, and kind of reminiscent of garlic cloves. Weirdly sweet and astringent.