The summer after my first year in graduate school I spent a month in Hawaii as a teaching assistant on an archaeological field school, an awesome opportunity to take advantage of some of the wonders of the Big Island. One of my fondest memories of that time was the trip we took to the farmers’ market in Hilo one Saturday. I was so overwhelmed by the abundance of exotic fruits and vegetables that I’d never encountered before and I wanted to try them all. Fortunately there was one particular vendor who seemed to specialize in catering to the needs of people like myself, neophytes to the tropical fruit world, and was more than happy to explain the differences in all the new produce that they had available. I walked away from that market with a huge smile on my face and a great deal of new flavor adventures stored up in my bag. One of those adventures was the dragon fruit.
The dragon fruit I had that summer was amazing to me. The fruit itself was so beautiful, with its magenta exterior with the little green leaves and an even more brilliant magenta interior with tiny black seeds (similar to what you find inside a kiwi). I was in total awe of the brilliance of the color in this fruit. And the flavor was nothing to sneeze at either. It was perhaps a bit subtler than one might expect, given the overwhelming visual appearance, but it was sweet and juicy and entirely satisfying.
Needless to say, when I came across dragon fruits for sale in Chinatown this weekend, I had to buy one to see how they compared to my memories. I did a little research before I cut into the fruit and realized that the variety I had purchased was most likely not the one with the brilliant magenta flesh, but the more commonly available white-fleshed type, which was purportedly less flavorful. My expectations began to drop. So, I cut it open this morning (the fruit is ripe when it is squeezable, like an avocado), and peeled off the red outer peel. It was indeed the white-fleshed variety. Here I have to agree with the comments I had read from others, this type was much more flavorless (as its appearance even suggests). I would liken its taste to something between a really bland kiwi and a cucumber. Yes it was juicy and interesting in appearance, with the little black seeds speckled throughout, but certainly not a fruit I would go back for seconds on. How disappointing! C’est la vie. But hey, it was an adventure, and that’s what life is about. Food as memory, now that’s a topic worth exploring, but we’ll save that for another day…