14 April 2015

Introducing 蓮霧, or Wax Apples

Exactly a year ago, I was in Taiwan with my brother and a group of friends, enjoying a week's vacation together in one of my favorite spots on Earth. The warm spring weather was perfect for all of our site-seeing in and around Taipei, including an excursion out to Danshui, touring the geopark at Yehliu, indulging in Beitou's hot springs, hiking up Elephant Mountain, and visiting the National Palace Museum. And, we ate and ate and ate...from delicious restaurant fare, like Din Tai Fung's xiǎo lóngbāo (soup dumplings) and a seafood feast in Yehliu, to more humble but still crazy-delicious street food like Hot Star's giant crispy fried chicken, ô-á-chian (oyster omelet), niú ròumiàn (beef and noodle soup) and, even, Seven-Eleven's Hokkaido milk soft serve ice cream. (Sigh, now that was some soft serve!)

The cuisine of Taiwan is incomparable, and so is the fresh produce! I think it's no secret that my favorite fruits of Taiwan are the super sweet mango as well as the crisp and delicately-flavored wax apple, called , that is, lián. Despite the name, this fruit is actually a part of the myrtle tree family Myrtaceae. And, it so happens that the Eugenia hedges so popular for landscaping in my hometown and indeed, surrounding my own front yard, also belong to this family of plants! When I was a little girl, I loved going out into the garden and collecting and nibbling on the little oval, purply-red Eugenia berries. They were so juicy and tart, with a lovely flavor unlike any other fruit I knew, I just couldn't keep away from them (though my parents would schimpf me about it).

So when I first had lián in Taiwan (was it just cut up in a bag with toothpicks at a night market one evening?), it was with great surprise that I realized it was the same taste as from my childhood! It made sense: the lián fruits, though significantly larger, seedless, and more pear-shaped than Eugenia berries, do have blossom ends of similar appearance and that same great taste.

The texture is actually not nearly as dense as that of a traditional apple, yet it's still crispy and juicy without being spongy. It's really a delicate fruit, so unfortunately lián is not so easy to find outside of its growing districts. If you ever have a chance to go to Taiwan or southeast Asia, this is a must-eat! The good news for those of us stuck in California for now, though, is that there is at least one farmer in southern California working on establishing lián here on the West Coast. I am fervently hoping for his success and that we'll all soon be able to enjoy these goodies Stateside.

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