Thailand is famous for its fruit. They export it all other the world. And in Thailand the most famous place for fruit is Chanthaburi. In the main harvest season of June Chanthaburi is a buzz of activity not only with the harvest, but with legions of fruit buyers in the region (both domestic and foreign) and Thai tourists in town to taste the fruit.
Harvest Season in Chanthaburi
It was no accident that my wife arranged a trip for us to see her brother in Chanthaburi smack bang in the middle of harvest season. So often in Thailand as a foreigner you are not really sure what is happening or will happen next. Partly this is to do with the communication issue, partly this because if you understand Thailand and its culture all of this would have been perfectly obvious and would not need explaining.
Everyone Helps Out in Harvest Season
What my wife in fact had planned was that we would go to Chanthaburi have a really nice meal at Farm Poo Nim and then go straight to a family friend’s orchard, harvest her fruit and then transport it on an Air Asia plane up to her parent’s house in Isan. I had no idea of this in advance, nor that when I got to Isan I would be helping to plant the rice. June is also rice planting season in the North East East of Thailand.
The Big Four Fruits in Thailand
The ‘big four’ in terms of Thai fruit production are mangostein, longon, rambutan and durian. People in Europe have generally heard of durian before, as it is the smelly giant fruit which is famously banned from airline and hotels. I hate them (except deep fried as a type of chip) and fortunately they were none for me to collect from this harvest. However, there was enough rambutan, mangostein and longon for a small village in Isan and then some more. I thought it would be interesting for those of you may have, or have not, tried them to see them growing on a tree in Thailand.
Mangostein tastes nothing like mango, nor does it have anything to do with mango. The name does not help you understand what it is. Mangostein is about the size of an orange, black on the outside with a small green stalk and a couple of leaves on the top where it is attached to the tree. On the tree it looks a bit like a fig.
There is a thick layer of peel. Once you get through it inside there is a segmented fruit with a large stone in the middle. Peeled it looks a bit like a white orange. The fruit itself tastes a bit like a very sweet lychee with a very subtle bitter after taste. Very nice and the taste is familiar to the Western palate.
These little nuggets of tastiness are definitely something you will never see at your local Carrefour or Sainsbury’s. They look ugly from the outside, but beyond the peel there is a thing of infinite wonder inside, albeit with a large seed in the centre.
From the outside a longon looks like a small yellow potato. Inside the very thin layer of peel there is a white fleshed fruit again very much like a lychee but much much sweeter. This is a fruit you will get fat from eating too much of and it something diabetics probably need to stay away. Not all fruit is healthy, this is a myth, but this fruit is very very tasty. It is probably a good thing that a fairly high proportion of what is inside is inedible seed.
The first time I eat this fruit it was peeled and had the stone taken out, and I thought it was a lychee. It isn’t, it’s a rambutan, something the Thais insist is completely different to a lycee. The big difference, as far as I can make out is all in the packaging. Rambutan has a distinctive red peel with green hairs growing out of it, whereas a lychee peel is hard and brown. Beyond that they are basically the same thing. Rambutan are one of the most popular and well known of the big four Thai fruits eaten outside of Thailand and this is well is because they are very nice and with a smaller stone inside than either longon or mangostein.