Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Reporting from Shanghai, writer Elaine Chow discovers the Jackfruit

You know what they say, once you go jack, you never go back.
Elaine Chow, the witty and well-seasoned editor of Shanghaiist.com will be gracing Gastronommy with guest contributions from her post in China. -Victoria

On Jackfruit
by Elaine Chow

It always amazes me the amount of fruit I come across in Asia that I've never seen anywhere else. You'd think that for someone who's lived in China, Hong Kong and Singapore for the good part of two decades, there'd be no fruity surprises left. And yet, I was schooled this year by a new roommate, who upon arriving in Shanghai, picked up the weirdest fruits he could find at a local market, and then became promptly addicted to them. His most prevalent fruit of choice: The Jackfruit.

The Jackfruit looks like a durian the size of a prize watermelon: spiky and green and with a girth that makes you wonder how many people get killed by errant falling fruits in its native country. According to Wikipedia, its the national fruit of Bangladesh and tends to do well in tropical lowlands. I guess there's enough of a market for it here in the slightly higher regions of Shanghai, though I really don't know why.

Interestingly, while the flesh is apparently edible (when ripened), the only part my roommate ever seemed to eat were the seeds. Perhaps he didn't know. Getting to the seeds requires that you hack away the unedible skin, which then leaves a waxy residue that gets all over your kitchen and is extremely hard to wash out. Also extremely hard to wash out: the scent. While it's not as noxiously odorous as durians are, jackfruit does have a sweet but sickly smell that could permeate and flavor other foods in your fridge. So let this be a warning: keep that stuff tightly wrapped unless you want all your milk, mushrooms and bread to taste slightly of jackfruit.

Speaking of which, what does jackfruit taste like? Like a banana if you dialed down the sugar and crossed it with hints of mango... and then added the texture of barely cooked chicken. No, that's not the most appetizing description - but jackfruit's not exactly the most appetizing of fruits.

 photo by Elaine Chow 

Or maybe I just think so because after week after week of our poor kitchen reeking of something akin to rotting papaya, I couldn't muster up any enthusiasm for the fruit anymore. Research shows that when you take the pains to cook it, it can develop a nice, roasted chestnutty flavor. I don't know: we never tried, and thanks to our roommate - who's now left - we never will.

Elaine Chow is the current editor of Shanghaiist.com, an English-language website about China covering local news, events, food and entertainment. When not blogging, she spends her time studying urban sustainability and helping out charitable efforts around town. And drinking. Lots of drinking. Elaine has previously written for Gizmodo, the gadget website. She can be found on tumblr and twitter.


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