If you’re ever in the Polk Gulch/Lower Nob Hill/Tenderloin area of San Francisco, I recommend making a stop at Polk Street Produce, a family owned and operated store selling only the freshest fruits and vegetables at reasonable prices. If you’re shopping local and organic, you’re in luck because they have clear labels for all their different varieties.
On my most recent visit, the Korean-American owner convinced me to try a strange looking fruit called cherimoya. It was green, firm, blob-shaped, and cactus-looking. I had seen the same fruit at Whole Foods (avoid shopping there if you have other health food options) at almost twice the asking price. Sold, the owner told me to wait a few days until the cherimoya was brown and extremely soft to the touch, then it would be ripe and ready.
Today, I wandered into the kitchen looking for a snack, and there was my single cherimoya, looking brown and withered, its flesh giving in to even the slightest touch. I brought the fruit to my nose; it smelled woodsy and somewhat like a mild durian. I cut it in half and bit in. It was sweet but with an astringent aftertaste, mapakla (cotton tongue), a custard-like texture, and flesh pods concealing large black seeds you’re supposed to suck and spit out. Overall, I enjoyed it. It reminded me of a lesser atis, a similar fruit I had grown up eating in the Philippines, one of my favorite fruits as a child besides star apple (kamias) and papaya.
The fruits in North California are delicious in their own way, and when I first moved here everything was delicious and exotic. But soon I discovered that fruits that grow in temperate regions do not have the same luscious, creamy, candy qualities of tropical fruits. The single species of banana unethically imported from Central and South America is bland and cotton-y, unlike the melt-in-your-mouth varieties of the Philippines. Berries of every kind are delicious in the summer, but during winters only apples and pears.
My grandfather’s house had a macopa (wax apple) tree growing in the back yard. We kids would wait patiently for the distinctly pink, tomato-shaped fruits to appear then we would climb the branches and pick them from the tree and snack on them with rock salt. They have a pleasantly neutral, midly tart taste but dry, crunchy texture. The good ones were juicier.
Whenever I go home, my favorite juices to have are calamansi (Philippine lime), guava (bayabas), and green mango.
If you want to learn more about Philippine produce and food in general, a very helpful and entertaining site to visit is Market Manila (www.marketmanila.com). Market Man posts helpful, full-color pictures for each post, usually accompanied by lore and recipes. Be warned though: he enjoys his pig parts as much as the next Filipino. In fact, he was one of Anthony Bourdain’s tour guides on his recent Philippine trip.
What are your favorite tropical fruits and what memories do you have associated with them?