Friday, February 20, 2015

Food Post 1. 蓮霧 Lian wu (lit. Lotus mist)

Baihe, where we are staying with my wife's family is a small district of Tainan province, which is fairly agricultural.  Baihe district has a similar population density of York county, which is as rural as it gets in Taiwan, the second most densely populated country in the world.  Because two thirds of the island is uninhabited mountainous terrain, on the ariable plains of the west coast the Taiwanese are very economical when it comes to land usage.  Even in the "country" houses are built almost on top of each other as they would be in a city.  There are no "yards" to speak of (literally---I have yet to learn of a mandarin equivilant).  If you have a nice house, maybe there is a courtyard, but otherwise, outside, land is used for personal vegetable gardens or fruit orchards--you even see scraggly looking sweet corn, which this time of year is getting ripe.  I've even seen people cultivate little patches on the stripes of land between roadways.  Everything else is farmland, and then mountains, where some fruit is grown and also tea at high altitudes where it grows more slowly, seasonally bathed in a steady, light mountainous mist.

Taiwan people are very fond of their tea and very proud of the fruit they grow: papaya, pineapple, white peaches, giant pears, plums of various sorts, huge sweet watermelon, strawberries, guava, mango, and so on.  To keep against insects and bruising, sometimes a styrofoam netting is used inside a plastic bag that is tied around the fruit while it still is ripening on the bough, thus you often drive past fields of trees all covered with white plastic bags, which is a sight I never get used to.

The most interesting, unique fruit that I've only ever seen in Taiwan is 蓮霧, referred  to in English as wax apple or mist apple.  The taste is light, sweet, but the texture is the strangest part. It seems as though the mountainous mist in which it was bathed crystolized into its present form-- something between styrofoam and cantaloupe.  A third of it seems to be air, and as that goes, you seem to be able to indefinitely eat them without getting too full, like a fruit from paradise that never becomes unsatisfying.  

This variety is referred to as 黑珍珠 hei zhen zhu (lit. Black precious bead) "black pearl".  

Cut in half--no seeds.  

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