It is invariably an error to visit a country and not try its food (what would be the point of going all the way to Vietnam and only eating egg and chips?) But all too often people do not get much beyond the country’s famous banh mi or its steaming bowls of pho. Now these are great, but there is so much more on offer, like some of our tremendous, strange and delicious fruit, which come in with a variety of unusual shapes and colors. Here are our top five most delicious and bizarre, super-tasty fruits that you should give a shot when traveling in Vietnam.
1. Custard Apple (Quả Na)
Chi Lang village in Lang Son Province is home to our most famous Custard apples, which will have your mouth-watering in no time. But you do not have to go to Lang Song to savor this juicy bad boy as they are delivered and sold all over the country. This fruit varies in shape with reticulated patterns on the rind. For a quick taste, just peel the rind off and eat the fruit with a spoon, or directly from hand to mouth if you are feeling devilish. The Custard apple’s flesh is sweet, not easily smashed, easy to peel, and can be stored for a long time in the fridge. It also contains many vitamins which are beneficial for your health. However, the pulp blends with many black seeds, so keep an eye on young children who enjoy it, since the seeds can easily get stuck in their throats. The ancient Vietnamese even used the custard apple leaves to cure fever, and it is said its blacks seeds can be smashed and blended in water to be used for lice prevention. So, why not give this custardy beauty a whirl?
2. Lekima/Eggfruit (Quả Trứng Gà)
Qua trung ga means eggfruit since in harvest season the fruit bears the iconic color of an egg yolk. With its taste having a slight hint of mashed sweet potato, it is featured in the Vietnamese song “Biet on chi Vo Thi Sau,” which is about Vo Thi Sau (1933-1952), a Vietnamese school girl and national heroine. Sau was no joke: when she was just 14 she lobbed a grenade at a band of French soldiers, killing one, injuring 12 and escaping undetected. Nevertheless, the lekima is believed to represent Sau’s youthful beauty, as she was killed before she was 18.
Indeed, this fruit holds tremendous spiritual meaning to Vietnamese people. The fruit itself is also appetizing: the pulp is very fleshy and has a tender sweet flavor. Simply removing the rind with a pocket knife and scooping it out with a spoon as you might when eating an avocado is the perfect way to enjoy it. The lekima is famous for its ability to resist oxidation and aging since it contains highly nutritional elements such as carbohydrates, beta-carotene and other Vitamins B. Sounds promising, huh?
3. Star Fruit (Quả Khế)
The star fruit is a sweet and sour fruit with, as the name suggest, a five-point star shape. This fruit is known to many young Viet teens through fairy tale “Cay Khe,” which features two brothers who furiously fight over a family’s star fruit tree. The best time to consume this is when its rind has mainly turned yellowish with only hints of green.
From then on, you will discover a unique mild and sour flavor. The more it turns yellow, the sweeter it becomes. The most common way for the Vietnamese to enjoy it, is to slide it into smaller pieces, remove edges and the seeds, and dip it into seasoning. It’s a treat that’s a little salty and a little sour, but still mild. What more do you want! But beware, since the fruit contains a high amount of oxalate, and people with kidney problems should avoid this fruit or at least consult a doctor before eating.
4. Mangosteen (Quả Măng Cụt)
The mangosteen or mang cut in Vietnamese is widely planted in Southeast Asia. In harvest season, it has a thick skin with a dark purple-red color. The gum inside its protective rind are white and divided into knots with a sweet and slightly sour taste, which almost seems to fizz on the mouth. It also has an attractive aroma. Inside the flesh are around six to 18 seeds depending on the cultivar. The sweetness of the mangosteen comes from the many types of sugar found within it, such as sucrose, fructose, and glucose.
There are two ways you can enjoy this fruit. One is to bite the rind and tear it off with your teeth before simply sucking out the pulp; the other, far more ladylike, is to use a small knife to cut daintily and gently around the fruit in a vertical direction. But be careful not to cut the pulp inside; you deserve a perfect pulp. The fruit purportedly has many benefits in folk-medicine, such as quelling bad breath, preventing cancer and making you more youthful.
5. Rambutan (Quả Chôm Chôm)
It is hard to look at a rambutan for the first time and think this fruit is actually edible, as it looks like something resembling a red baby hedgehog, but it is oh-so-sweet and delicious, with a juicy flavor that hits you out of left-field. In Vietnam it sells like hotcakes during the summer season. The way to eat this fruit is much like eating a mangosteen, but be sure that the big seed inside is tossed away as it is unpleasantly bitter. This fruit, which has several cousins such as the lychee and longyan, can be either eaten fresh or canned and stored for a longer consumption period. A Chào editor even recommends the canned stuff as a side to vanilla ice-cream. The rambutan’s plants and roots can also be used for many other purposes, such as making oil, soaps and in the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and coloring products.
And there it is, our top five strange fruits founds in Vietnam with all their unusual qualities and back-stories. Now, all you have do is go and eat them. Go on then, off you go.