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Jun 8, 2008 05:44 PM

Exotic Fruit Finds in Chinatown

I braved the heat and roamed around Chinatown on Saturday. Exotic fruit were in abundance. In addition to the lychees, longans, and rambutans popping up everywhere, one of the metal fruit cart vendors on Canal St. (off of Mott) carried fresh mangosteens from Thailand. They were $9 / lb, and a yellow plastic-netted sack of 8 fruit cost me $20. Around September of last year, the same vendor sold mangosteens (also from Thailand) that were previously frozen (but sold thawed) for about half the price. Contrary to my expectations, I found the flavor to be more pronounced in the frozen ones, and the texture better. The flesh of the fresh mangosteen seemed rather soft, and it was missing that bright acidic tang that I associate with mangosteens. Apparently, they don't travel that well, and freezing them seems to preserve their flavor and essence better. I wonder how the ones being grown and shipped from the Caribbean taste.

One block west on Canal, another metal fruit cart vendor was selling Java Apples (aka Wax Apples). I had never seen these before, and their color and appearance were quite striking. They were pear-shaped and had a light-red /dark-pink colored skin that looked almost translucent. When I saw the display, I literally thought they were waxed fruit. My mom had heard about them while growing up in China, and said they were very popular in Taiwan (in Cantonese: mu lian; in Mandarin: lian wu), although they're indigenous to Malaysia and Indonesia. We bought a few at $4 / lb, and I have to say I found them very refreshing and texturally interesting. They tasted like a cross between asian pears and carambola (star-fruit). In fact, the thin, translucent-like skin was similar in both taste and appearance to the skin of carambola (save for the color). The fruit had the juicy, sweet, granular crispness of asian pears, but with a slight acidic tang that had hints of cucumber--much like a carambola. Surrounding the core, there was a cotton-like pithy layer--according to my mom, the pith is edible (I'm hoping she was correct). When chilled, I found the Java Apple very refreshing--especially against the oppressive heat. If anyone knows more about these, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts. Apparently, they can range in color from a pale greenish-white to black, and the sweetness varies with the color.

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  1. Thanks for the tip! I think this is the first year that they have java apple in Chinatown. I will definitely check it out!

    7 Replies
    1. re: kobetobiko

      Wow! Ditto. This is a find. Wax apples (as, written in Engrish, "wassapples" or "wasapple") were everywhere in Taipei when I visited. That alongside, fresh guava and dragonfruit, were served in every home we visited.

      1. re: kathryn

        never heard the english name, but lian-wu is the bomb. love them with the dried plum powder, such a lovely memory of taiwan for me.

        1. re: bigjeff

          Hi bigjeff,

          i have never heard of the English name either until OP mentioned it! Java apple it is :D

          1. re: kobetobiko

            wow gotta tag on to this...ive never seen them in the US period...probably my favorite fruit in taiwan (basically every fruit street vendor in taiwan has them), i wonder how they stack up? i mean im sure they're not as good, but if they are even passable that would be exciting

            1. re: Lau

              My dad bought me some lian wu years ago and they looked so red, but tasted soo sour. This is my favorite fruit as well. I just came back from Taiwan so I will need investigate this further! I am doubtful they are as sweet as the ones in Taiwan.

              1. re: teresa

                yeah when im there i pretty much end up walking around with a bag of them all day long....let me know how they are if u beat me there, i havent been in ny much lately

        2. re: kathryn

          dragonfruit: what a letdown! so pretty but, no flavor. fresh fresh under-ripe guava on the other hand, I didn't like as a kid but when I go back to taiwan, I just demolish them. can't they grow these in the states somewhere?

      2. great report, bklynblaise! thanks very much. i had mangosteen from the same vendor and agree: they were lackluster. i haven't had frozen mangosteen, before, and was actually wondering if these had been frozen. very interesting to hear that the frozen were actually better.

        i don't know about the java apple pith .... my mother told me that if you eat it, you risk growing a java apple in your tummy. (tho as lou reed famously said: "you can't always trust your mother.")

        1 Reply
        1. re: cimui

          hmmm...I wonder if my tummy will have room for both the java apple and the watermelon growing in it.

          As for the frozen mangosteens, I've found that so long as you eat them very soon after they're thawed, the flavor and texture hold up well. If they sit around anymore than a day or so after thawing, I find that the peel/shell starts to break down and its bitter liquids stain and taint the edible flesh. That's why they can sometimes taste astringent and leave a numbing aftertaste. I'm wondering if the mushier texture of the fresh mangosteens is due to the distance & duration of the shipment or the irradiation treatment they have to go through before being allowed into the country..

        2. Did you see Yangmei??!!

          These here:

          They're in season in China right now. It may be my favorite fruit on the planet (or nectarine) but I can only get it over there. If a strawberry and a raspberry got married and had a baby which then got it on with a cherry. Not exaggerating, they are that good.

          5 Replies
          1. re: 2slices

            It's also yamamomo in Japanese.
            I have only seen canned ones. I have never seen fresh ones in the market (only seen in restaurants)

            1. re: kobetobiko

              I frequently go to Zhejiang Province for business, which is where they grow them. So good, almost makes it worth going back to the otherwise god awful city of Wenzhou.

            2. re: 2slices

              I agree--yangmei (aka- mountain peach) are good. Unfortunately, I've never seen them sold fresh in NY. The only place I've had them was at Morimoto's in Chelsea. It was the highlight of the omakase (...which may not be saying much since the meal was highly disappointing). Nevertheless, the fruit was a new experience for me.

              1. re: BklynBlaise

                Actually quite a few other Japanese restaurants will serve a yamamomo with the meal e.g. Sugiyama, Le Miu, Masa, Shimizu, etc.

                1. re: kobetobiko

                  A yamamomo, singular. A 1 lb basket in China cast $1. Of course you can't compare price wise, it's silly. A berry transported overseas is going to cost 10 times more. Still I'd pay $10 for a little carton of fresh ones. Oh well.

            3. thanks for the tips!

              I wish santol was available here. I miss it terribly!

              1. Hi Folks--please keep your discussion to exotic fruit finds in Chinatown. General discussion of exotic fruits should be taken to the General Chowhounding Topics board. Thanks!