Snake on a Plane

I just saw the family off at the airport for their 2PM flight. Since they had a huge breakfast of Thai favorites at 8AM, and some bonus dishes at Lauren’s NGO around 10:30, we skipped out on lunch. But just in case they got hungry on their way to Chiang Mai, I sent them off with a parcel of snake in banana leaves, complete with all of the garlic/chili/cilantro trimmings.

It was a great having Shawn, Jessica, and Moose here for the past five days, and I am sad that they’re gone. Fortunately we’re going to meet up with them in Chiang Mai on Friday afternoon for a few more days of Thailand fun!

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Snake at Lauren’s office, not on a plane

Just Flew in from Chiang Mai

And boy are our arms tired! We have arrived in our NGO assignment city, near the Burmese border. We need to check out the town and find ourselves a place to live for the next 3 months.

Criteria: Western toilet, hot water, comfortable bed, refrigerator.

Desirable bonus features: air-con for the “hot season” (it’s only 32°C now), good natural light, kitchen facilities (yeah, right!)

Mangosteen

Kenny and I first tried a mangosteen on our last trip to Thailand, on Ko Phi Phi in December 2008. We had heard that the mangosteen was a serious contender for the title of Best Tropical Fruit Ever, and we were eager to understand the hype. Alas, the mangosteen that we tried was a bad sample. It was dried up on the inside and kind of chalky; we knew something was amiss.

We finally got another opportunity to try a mangosteen last week in Laos. Our Luang Prabang guesthouse was just around the corner from a sizable produce market, and one of the sellers had particularly delectable looking fruits. We picked up a bunch of tiny bananas, a mango, some rambutans, and one mangosteen to try. This first one was so good that we went back to the produce market for several more over the following days.

Mangosteens have a thick, coarse, purple-brown skin and are almost perfectly round. The fleshy fruit inside comes in sections and has a soft, almost marshmallow-y texture, like a very ripe mango. The taste is sweet with a touch of tart, and a little creamy, with a fuller flavor than the sugar apple.

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How much is that mangosteen in the bucket?

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My name is Mangosteen. Bruce Mangosteen.

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Bruce Mangosteen with his two brothers, Bill and Xavier

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Delicious mangosteen flesh

On our Vietnam Airlines flight from Hanoi to Nha Trang, we found an article in the in-flight magazine about traditional fruits used for offerings during Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. One of these is the mangosteen, which is popular in the south. According to the article:

These fruits are essential for offering plates. Choosing good mangosteens is not easy, so families feel proud to offer perfect mangosteens to their guests.

Hopefully we’ll find more delicious mangosteens available here in South Vietnam, given their apparent significance.

How Not to Open a Pomelo

In preparation for our travels from Lanta to Krabi (minibus) to Bangkok (flight #1) to Vientiane (flight #2), we stocked up on fruit from the local market. We purchased some bananas, oranges, a pomelo, and a chili/sugar packet. This was the first time we’ve bought a whole pomelo rather than a shrink-wrapped set of pre-peeled slices. Little did we realize that they would be as challenging to open as a coconut. The process managed to consume our entire (1 hour) flight from Bangkok to Vientiane.

First, you need to make your way through the 1/2 inch thick green skin. Fingernails are insufficient for this task. Our trusty spork had difficulties as well. As Lauren was hacking on the pomelo with our plastic serrated knife, a flight attendant came by to assist. She scored strategic locations with her own plastic serrated knife to make the skin (a little) easier to peel.

Lauren peeling the rind
Partway through removing the rind from the pomelo

Peeled pomelo
Part 1 complete!

Next step, getting the juicy pomelo insides out of the bitter white membrane. This was a mighty struggle, with more advice pouring in from passengers across the aisle and our flight attendant. We finally got the hang of it – look for an opening on the top seam of a piece, get your fingernails underneath, and use a de-shelling motion. 

Pomelo, deconstructed
We never realized how much overhead is involved with each slice of pomelo

Now we were ready to enjoy the fruits of our labors with chili/sugar dipping (which was much easier to open). As we were eating the pomelo, our friendly attendant asked “do you like it?” We nodded enthusiastically, and she came back a minute later with a pre-peeled shrink-wrapped pomelo from the market. “Take this, it’s mine and I want you to have it. Have a safe trip to Vientiane.” Sometimes it really does take a village…

Open pomelo celebration
Success! Our pomelo in front, chili-sugar in hand, attendant’s gift in back