There was a time when the Bangkok weekend market was held at Sanam Luang rather than at Chatuchak, and those who remember it as it was then will recall that it had a character very different from now. The tourism frenzy that began in the late 1980s was still many years off, and the great majority of the people who went to Sanam Luang to browse the market were Bangkok locals. It would have been unusual to spend a couple of hours meandering around there without running into someone you knew.
Visitors bought produce not from re-sellers but from actual farmers who brought their produce in trucks and spent the night in tents set up behind their stalls. One thing that sticks in Ung-aang Talay's memory is the great variety of fruits that were displayed on mats along the north side of Khlong Lot. A few, including a banana with peculiar designs on its skin, were varieties that Ung-aang Talay has not seen since, but that may have been familiar to Thais of earlier generations.
It was here that U-a T first encountered a mystery fruit that resembled a slender, shiny, bright yellow mango with a tapering, sharply pointed bottom. The vendor identified them as siemthaw and said that they were very sweet, but the two that U-a T brought home were hard and as astringent as unripe persimmons.
A decade or so later, after the market had relocated to Chatuchak, U-a T spotted the fruit again being sold by a vendor at Aw Taw Kaw market, and once more heard from the seller that they were actually very sweet and delicious, adding that there had been a time when they were popular in Thailand, but that few people grew them in more recent years. U-a T took a few home.
This was in the benighted days before smartphones and the internet, so U-a T was unable to Google siemthaw to get the full scoop on the fruit. Instead, U-a T wrote about it in this column and asked readers for any information they might be able to provide. Response came in the form of a long letter from a retired military man who knew a great deal about the fruit. In English it was called an eggfruit, he explained, and apparently enjoyed something of a vogue in the earlier part of the 20th century. The name came from the fact that it was thought to be as nutritious as an egg.
The eggfruit took a very long time to ripen, but when they finally did they lost their raw mango-like hardness and became quite soft. They were as sweet an delicious as both vendors had claimed, but what was most notable was the strange texture of the pulp. One comparison might be with the yolk of a hard-boiled egg (possibly another source of its name?) or, more accurately, something between the egg yolk and the pulp of an almost ripe durian (at the nuea haeng-haeng stage) a little more moist than the yolk, a bit dryer than the durian. The taste includes a slight nuttiness again reminiscent of durian, but without any of the smell. In short, a treat. Why were they so little-known in Thailand and hard to find?
Now all of that has changed. It seems that eggfruit is now being grown on a commercial scale here. U-a T found them being sold in quantity in at a market on Lat Phrao 132, and a friend just back from the North said that the markets there were full of them. What's more, a Google search for "eggfruit" unleashes an avalanche of information that shows why the fruit may again come into favour here in Thailand.
It is a native of Central America, and is also known as a canistel. Our pointy variety is only one of many; some are shaped like nam dawkmai mangoes or even completely round. In Asia it is popular in a number of countries, including parts of the Philippines. But what is most interesting of all is the list of recipes for eggfruit given on websites like www.eggfruit.com. Coconut-eggfruit muffins, custards, a pudding made using a mixture of eggfruit and sweet potato, ice cream, even a variant of the pecan pie. There is a lot here for Thai cooks to experiment with.
One thing to remember is how long the fruit takes to ripen. With its appetising yellow colour, it looks ready to eat long before it is ripe. This was U-a T's mistake during the first encounter with an eggfruit, trying to eat it before it was ready. The batch purchased recently took a full two weeks to ripen fully.
They can be eaten at the point when they yield when squeezed but are not really soft, although their sweetness will be combined with a slight astringent bitterness that some people may enjoy. When they become very soft they are ripe and the bitterness is gone. Then they can be eaten skin and all, with no need to peel them, although the skin contains a sticky sap, like that of the lamut, that adheres to the lips.
Doubtless there are households who have eggfruit trees on their property, have been eating the fruit all along, and have wondered when everyone else would catch on. Here in Bangkok, eggfruit is still not a standard offering at market fruitstands, but that may change. Cooks interested in trying something new should keep an eye out for it.
About the author
- Writer: Ung-Aang Talay