UBUD, Indonesia — Street vendors throughout Indonesia sell fruit that looks straight out of a Dr. Seuss book or the seedy Star Wars cantina. Naturally, the time came to sample the local produce.
There was never a question of whether I would try the foreign fruit; it was just a matter of when. Coming upon a veritable cornucopia in Ubud’s main market, I got the chance to try them all at once.
First on my list was rambutan. The round, red, spiky-haired alien fruit literally stopped me in my tracks one day while biking through Jakarta. A hand-pulled cart piled high with a fruit that resembled Animal from “The Muppet Show” became a common sight, and soon I’d seen rambutan around enough to make it easily the most common of the bunch.
This, I thought, was a good tack to take when you take your taste buds beyond bananas.
“Rambutan” in Bahasa Indonesia means “forest hair.” (Notice the similarity to how “orangutan” means “forest human.”) Not the most appetizing name I’ve heard for food, but it beats the description of kopi lewak, or civet coffee, after its unusual processing method.
The fiery-colored fruit peels like a tentacled pomegranate to reveal a translucent, lychee-like flesh, though not as sweet. Delicious and a bit bizarre to handle, rambutan was an easy one to like.
Next up was snakefruit.
Aptly named, it was the size of a head of garlic with a peel that resembled reptilian skin, complete with scaly texture. I first tasted snakefruit while visiting Revi in Ubud. If her baby, Anais, could safely eat it, I figured I could too.
Peeling snakefruit feels like what I imagine skinning an animal — with scales — would feel like. A bit unpleasant to have this rigid, almost leathery membrane crumble like a desert-dweller shedding its hide.
Inside, the meat is sectioned off like cloves of garlic. The fruit is slightly dry, subtle, sweet, with a hint of nuttiness and a mouth-feel resembling roasted chestnuts. Bizarre? Yes, but its bark is worse than its bite.
Next was the manggis (mangosteen).
Burgundy and peach-sized, this fruit seemed to be related to snakefruit with its sectioned flesh. Light in color, the inside was slightly tart and sweet, and it was encased in a thick, juicy skin that stained fingers maroon. Good but messy!
Finally, there was marquisa telur kodok.
“Telur kodok” means “frog’s eggs.” Sure enough, when you crack open the orange-yellow crusty skin from the fruit, a glob of pale green slime is there to greet you. Each tiny, amorphous berry holds a seed, but they all sort of clump together so that it’s nearly impossible to separate them.
The fruit actually reminded me of a Peruvian favorite, granadilla (a diminutive form of granada, which is the Spanish name for pomegranate) or grenadia. Nicknamed “moco,” which means “booger” or “snot,” its consistency is gelatinous and it tastes slightly tart and sweet. (Looking up the two fruit, I can’t really see a difference. I wonder if they are, in fact, one in the same.)
Having had a history with granadilla as a kid, I took to marquisa telur kodok quite easily. Recalling the laughter that accompanied my first encounter with “moco,” I quite enjoyed the Indonesian version, though I suspect it’d be a hard sell in the States.
Lastly, there is durian, a pungent Asian favorite that reeks like the undead (of the plant world). But I dared not try it just yet. After so much fruit in one day, I thought it best to leave it for a day I felt more inspired.
UPDATE: I found the courage to taste durian. But just once.