The Four Seasons wanted a bedside guide for their guests to the many fruits of Bali, some of which they might never have seen before. The words are mine; the photos are by another whose name eludes me right now … Walter someone, I believe, from Hong Kong. (If you see these, Walter, please write me … you deserve credit.)
You might think that because you’re familiar with the banana you should focus your fruit tasting on all the other delights that await you. But when you see the bananas in the local markets, you’ll realize they’re a world away from the plantation bananas that you’re used to. On Bali you’ll find tiny milk bananas, shrimp bananas with red peels, ivory bananas that remain green as they ripen and all manner of other bananas ranging from thin to fat. They’re all worth a try if only because they’re such delicious variations on an old favourite. And if you’re caught in the rain while you’re shopping, order a banana leaf with your banana — they make beautiful umbrellas.
Custard Apple — Balinese: silik, silikaya, sekaya
Look closely because at first glance you might mistake this fruit for an artichoke. Like fraternal twins, they’re both green and round with a segmented look to their outer coverings. Unlike the artichoke, however, the custard apple is sweet in taste, soft in texture and has seeds — rather like soft cheese with pips and a dash of fibre. To open your apple, hold it in both hands, place your thumbs in the hole where the stem joins the apple and gently pull the fruit apart. Then simply pull the segments out with your fingers and enjoy. With the very best fruits, and with your eyes closed, you’ll think you’re eating real custard.
Durian — Balinese: duren
This is a fruit that doesn’t travel well. Not because it isn’t durable, but because its extremely strong odour keeps it banned from most planes, trains, hotels and restaurants. Despite its tough exterior, the ripe durian is easy to open — ask the fruit seller to open your first one so you’ll know how later. Inside, small compartments house the soft, yellowish lobes of fruit. Each lobe has a single large seed and the fruit is usually eaten with your fingers, either joyously or timidly depending on your experience. Before dismissing the durian for its smell you might consider that it’s reputed to be an aphrodisiac. Those who love it do so with a passion that’s hard to explain any other way.
Lychee — Balinese: leci
If this is your first foray into exotic fruits, you couldn’t do better than to start with lychees. The fruits are the size of walnuts and are ripe when they are the vivid red of a Balinese sunset. The skin is the fruit world’s version of a rasp, with small, hard studs, but it is surprisingly easy to peel. Simply pull the stem away, put your thumbnail in the hole to catch the edge of the skin and begin peeling. The skin strips away easily to reveal a translucent fruit that is firm, wonderfully sweet and delicious. At its centre you’ll find a smoothly polished brown seed that is so beautiful you may be tempted to save it as a souvenir of your Balinese holiday.
Mango — Balinese: poh
Green before they ripen, Balinese mangoes turn a warm greenish-yellow when they’re ready to eat. Nearly everyone, local and foreign alike, loves mangoes. The three most popular varieties on the island have yellow or reddish-yellow flesh when ripe. If no tools are handy, simply peel the skin off with your fingers and begin eating. Or use a knife to cut two halves of fruit off the large, flat seed inside, and then make criss-cross cuts in the flesh down to the skin and spoon out. For fun, press upwards from underneath and the fruit obligingly pops up into a mango porcupine. And on a hot day in paradise, there is nothing better than mango, crushed ice and a dash of sugar blended to icy perfection.
Mangosteen — Balinese: manggis
There’s a secret to opening Queen Victoria’s favourite fruit and while everyone around you is looking for a knife, we’ll share it with you. Fold your hands in front of you with your fingers interlocked. Now pick up a mangosteen, stem up, between the heels — not the palms — of your hands. Gently but firmly begin squeezing until the thick peel suddenly splits in half. Your reward will be several delicate, deliciously sweet sections of white fruit that will melt in your mouth. A few larger segments will have a single seed; the smaller ones, none at all. And if you want to know how many segments are inside before you open it, turn the mangosteen over and count the petals on the small, raised flower design.
Papaya — Balinese: gedang
The papaya is one of life’s on-going pleasures. The palm-like plant grows everywhere in Bali and produces its long, succulent fruit continuously throughout the year. The skin of the papaya is green when young, changing to a yellowish-orange as it ripens. The easiest way to eat a papaya is to cut it in half along its length and then cut each half lengthwise to make quarters. Use a spoon to gently scrape away the many small, round, black seeds and then eat the flesh by spooning it out as you would a melon. As with the mango, you can use a knife to make criss-cross cuts down to the skin to make spooning even easier. For an added treat, try squeezing on a bit of fresh lime juice to add a wonderfully tart flavour to the papaya’s naturally sweet taste.
Passion Fruit — Balinese: markisah
If the lovely passion fruit is not quite as popular in Bali as many of the island’s other native fruits, it may be because of its scarcity. It is available only once during the year towards the end of the dry season, and then only in small quantities. The ripe fruit is orange or yellow and is smooth, round and relatively hard. To get at its passionate centre, use a knife and slice the fruit in half. Your first glimpse of hundreds of seeds, each encased in a pulpy little ball, may be a bit daunting. It looks like a classic case of too much effort for too little reward. But enjoying this luscious fruit is easier than it looks — everything is edible, including the seeds.
Rambutan — Balinese: buluan, aceh
From the outside, the rambutan looks like one of life’s more prickly problems. But pick it up and you’ll discover that its long tentacles are really quite soft and harmless. When ripe, rambutans are a deep crimson or bright yellow. You open the fruit by splitting the tough skin with a thumbnail and peeling it off. Or you can draw a knife around its middle and pull the top off to reveal a lovely firm white fruit in its own miniature egg cup that’s easy to hold or hand to a friend. In size and taste, the rambutan most closely resembles the lychee. To eat, pop the rambutan whole into your mouth and chew your way around the single seed that you’ll find in the centre.
Salak — Balinese: salak
Finally, a fruit to match your luggage. The salak, or snake fruit, comes attractively packaged in its own distinctively patterned, leathery hide. The dark-brown skin is tough, but surprisingly thin and easy to peel. Inside you’ll find a light-tan fruit divided into three or more lobes, usually with a single seed in the largest section. Salaks are not juicy which makes them especially convenient to peel and eat. The fruit has the firmness of a carrot and a distinctively agreeable flavour quite unlike any other fruit. The unusual beauty of the salak and its ability to endure travelling conditions make it a tasty and unusual gift for friends back home.
Starfruit — Balinese: belimbing
Travelling abroad under its Spanish name of carambola, the starfruit is rapidly becoming a world citizen. Slice the fruit into thin cross-sections to see the shape that gives this fruit its name. Like an apple, the starfruit can be eaten skin and all, but you may want to cut away the slightly tougher ridges of the five-sided fruit before you slice it. The taste is slightly tart, but pleasant and refreshing. In Bali, the fruit grows nearly everywhere and there are many different starfruits that vary in size and sweetness. If you don’t see all of these varieties in the local market, however, the answer is simple — the others were eaten as soon as they were picked.