Thursday, June 7, 2007
Hao Che Ma? (Does it taste good?)
Kunming fruit is amazing; stalls all over town sell bananas, apples, pears, peaches, lychees, papaya and on and on. The king of fruit here, in my eyes, is the shuzu: A little bit smaller than a tennis ball, with a little green hat and a sturdy purple skin, it looks like a round, miniature eggplant. To crack the thick skin you give it a little squeeze, much the same way you squeeze the sides of a plastic container to free a baby plant for re-potting. The white fruit inside is divided into five sections, easy to share with a friend or to enjoy alone. Its taste is a little bit tangy and a little bit sweet, and you can eat the juicy fruit without making a sticky mess. With its durable packaging, ease of opening and perfect taste, this is the fruit that I’ve been looking for all my life.
Fresh lychees are a surprise to me, too. In the US, I’d had lychee martinis with candied fruit in them, but didn’t particularly like the flavor or texture. But I’d never known the pleasure of prying the scaly skin from a fresh nut to find a sweet treat inside. And nature’s presentation of them is genius; the knobby pods come in bunches with long stems; they look like bouquets from a Dr. Seuss book.
The mangos here are also amazing. I’m sure one of you in California or Israel will claim to have the best mangoes, but the ones here are hard to beat. They often grow to about eight inches long, and have a great meat-to-pit ratio. I have yet to choose an over- or under-ripe mango in Kunming.
It’s so good to know that the world has all of these flavors and eating experiences left for me to try. Last night I had my first local home-cooked meal. My roommate’s friend made us a dinner with more than a half-dozen dishes: ham in the local style (a fatty, flavorful meat that looks a lot like bacon), lima beans cooked in a sweet and savory marinade, potatoes with “string beans” (a local version; a completely different plant than I am used to), spicy beef, something that my roommate only told me was “like chicken,” a soup with bok choi and tofu/pork balls that looked a lot like matzo balls, a salty cured meat dish, and a ginger and celery salad. It was the best meal I’ve had here, and I didn’t mind the hospitable tradition of inviting the guest to finish off most of the dishes.
All this and I’m losing weight here! Four kilos down after five weeks, and I now fit into a pair of jeans I bought at a too-small size before leaving New York.