Okay, this is really random, so bear with me here, but I’ve been wanting to post this ever since I spent two months in Brazil with my boyfriend and his family. It was there that I discovered something amazing.
There’s a whole world out there that I knew nothing about. A world of fruit. That’s right: fruit.
We have a lot of fruit options in America (and I’m talking about what we typically call fruit – not vegetables with seeds that are technically in the fruit family, blah, blah, blah). I mean, I easily thought of twenty-five that any Walmart would have in stock throughout the year, and that’s without considering the different kinds within each species like Gala vs. Granny Smith apples and red plums vs. white plums. I used to love going to Central Market in Dallas – a fancy grocery store that sold thirty different kinds of apples and always had a small stock of exotic fruits I had never seen before. One time, my sisters and I decided to buy one of each unknown fruit they had and have a tasting. It was stuff like dragonfruit and starfruit and prickly pear and kumquat. We couldn’t really figure out how most of them were supposed to be eaten, if I’m being honest, but it was fun nonetheless.
But I never considered that there were even more fruits beyond these exotic ones: fruits I had never seen or heard of in my life and probably never would have had I not spent sometime in South America. What is unknown to us, is common life over there.
The first thing that surprised me (in a wonderful way) was the overflow of fruits that I considered special. Mangos and coconuts (or mangas and cocos) grow all over the place, from parks to backyards to curbsides in the city. If you’ve never had coconut water fresh from the shell like this, you are missing out.
Passion fruit (called maracujá) is another favorite, especially as a juice. My boyfriend’s family made it fresh almost every day, and we drank it with each meal. What’s nice is that both of the passion fruits in the picture are perfectly good to use inside, even though one looks like it starting to spoil on the outside.
Star fruit and guava (carambola and goiaba) are two other common household foods, with both of these fruits being consumed much like we would eat an apple. I love the juicy flavor of star fruit, but guava I preferred as a juice due to the slightly grainy texture of the flesh.
I’m only getting started here though. Ever seen one of these hanging from a tree?
I swear I had, although I can’t remember where. Now I know what they are, and yes – they are edible. In America, we call them sweetsop, but in Portuguese they are known as fruta-de-conde. There is also a similar but smaller version of this fruit called graviola (or soursop for us). They both have juicy translucent pods inside with a seed in each one. I liked the larger sweetsop better, as the flavor was (ironically) a little more tangy and sour.
Here’s a fruit we probably all know about in America now: açaí. While the açaí craze infiltrated the country a while ago, it’s unlikely that you will find the berry prepared in the traditional Brazilian way: a frozen style much like ice cream (not in flavor though). They mix the açaí with sweet syrups or strawberries and bananas and often top it with interesting options. My boyfriend likes powdered milk on top, while his sister eats hers with salted popcorn. Sadly, I discovered after one cup that I do not enjoy the flavor or texture of this traditional treat.
Some other berries we found growing in the neighborhood were acerola (sometimes called West Indian cherry here) and pitanga. Though I preferred the flavor of the tiny orangey-red pitanga, acerola is commonly consumed as a fruit juice and was on a lot of restaurant menus.
At an ice cream chain called Mil Frutas (Thousand Fruits), I tried both jabuticaba and cupuaçu flavored sorbets (liked the first, not the second). More fruit I had never heard of! I googled some pictures later on:
I didn’t end up trying it, but we also found this fruit growing on trees in the neighborhood. I later looked it up – it’s called longan, and once again, it’s edible! I’m beginning to think everything that grows in Brazil is edible…
We got a container of lychee for me to try with breakfast, and I was pleasantly surprised by the smooth texture and refreshing flavor. Once you peel them, they kind of look like giant grapes on the inside, but with much larger seeds.
Have you ever wondered why cashews are always so much more expensive than other nuts? I assumed that cashews grew in clusters on trees just like walnuts and pecans, and the trees were just more rare or something. Surprise! Not so. Let me introduce you to this:
That is a cashew fruit (or cajú in Portuguese). See that lima bean shaped stem coming out the top? That is a pod holding one single cashew. Is it starting to make sense why these cost so much more? For even a small can of cashews, there is going to be a pretty big pile of unused fruit going… somewhere. Luckily, it’s edible! The inside is spongy and white with a sweet flavor, and from what I saw in Brazil, it’s popular as a fruit juice. Who knew? Well, now you do.
With all this fruit growing so rampantly in the wild or between streets or in people’s backyards, I got to thinking that if one were homeless in these areas, it wouldn’t be to hard to at least find a free meal. Granted, I’m sure a diet of soursop and mango isn’t great for you, but still, it’s there, unwanted and free for the taking. That’s a lot more than you’d ever find in most parts of the USA. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a full grown piece of fruit growing anywhere other than carefully cared-for orchards.
These are the kind of discoveries I love making and the entire reason I crave travel. There is so much more out there than what you know as commonplace. Whether it’s languages and cultures, traditions, art, landscapes, or food, there is always going to be something you have never seen or done or tried or heard of. Only problem is when you fall in love with something your own country doesn’t offer, then have to go home!