After brunch a few weeks ago, M and I swung by Indonesia’s Whole Foods equivalent, the bougie, bule-filled Ranch Market. We were there primarily to pick up supplies for a barbecue we were hosting later that day, but since one of my missions while in Jakarta is to demystify every alien orb and oblong in the produce department, I wanted to bring home at least a couple exotic fruits. First, I grabbed what can best be described as a mushier, more heavily textured, over-sized avocado labeled “sirsak,” whose English translation, hastily pulled up on our smart phones, was the equally unhelpful “soursop.” Later experimentation with sirsak yielded tasty if messy results, but that’s a story for a different time.
Sirsak securely in basket, I spotted what Google images had previously informed me was a jackfruit, a search I’d undertaken when trying to settle on a name for this very blog.
Figuring it would be a good photo op (see: the right margin of my home page), in addition to exposing me to a new fruit, I added it to our haul.
Grocery shopping completed, we checked out and hailed a cab. On the cab ride, we first encountered the perilous nature of the jackfruit. Sheathed only by a flimsy plastic shopping bag, the heavy, spike-riddled jackfruit was proving to be an unpleasant thing to hold, either in a lap or with hands. The spikes were hostile–far sharper and harder than I’d thought possible for a piece of vegetation–but traffic and boredom and a general lack of good judgment led me to try to pose for a few jackfruit-to-face pics. Despite some close shaves brought about by sudden stops combined with the jackfruit’s heaviness, its proximity to my head, and the difficulty of really gripping something so damn spiky, I finished the photo shoot with both eyeballs still intact and no blood on the seat.
“Something we bought smells weird,” M said, surveying the collection of grocery bags in the back of the cab.
“Yeah, true,” I said, and we proceeded to sniff the various bags. Determining that the offensive smell seemed to be emanating from the jackfruit, we shrugged it off.
We arrived home and decided to get to work preparing the jackfruit before any guests arrived. I pulled up this handy website, grabbed a knife, and got to work.
The jackfruit was hard and impossible to grip without impaling my palm, our knives far from sharp, and my upper-body strength useful for little more than chaturanga and 2 kg tricep curls, but I persevered.
Now, despite the fact that the internet told me that the jackfruit flesh should be a sunny orange, not a mashed-potato beige, and despite the fact that the how-to site declared that the flesh should be coming out in solid “bulb” form, not as fibrous mush, and despite the fact that, upon further reflection, our jackfruit was far more spherical and spike-covered than the jackfruit I’d seen on Google, I kept on keepin’ on.
“I think there are like a hundred different varieties of jackfruit,” M said by way of explanation.
“Yeah,” I said. “Wonder what kind we got.”
The carving complete, we each sampled a little spoonful of the glop. The flavor was subtle, more savory than sweet; not necessarily good-tasting, but by no means bad. And with the flesh now fully unleashed from its aggressive armor, we could confirm beyond a doubt that the jackfruit was what we’d been smelling on the cab ride.
I put the bowl of flesh in the fridge and promptly forgot about it until, hours later, the barbecue in full swing, I was sitting on our front porch sipping some Bintang and chatting about local food with one of M’s coworkers, a native Sinaporean and longtime Jakarta resident.
“Have you tried durian yet?” he asked me.
“Not yet,” I said. “But I’ve seen the pre-cut packaged stuff in the store.”
He went on to explain to me the wonders of durian, a favorite fruit of his, and to tell me all about the uproar the plant has created in Asia. Because of its offensive and persisting odor, lots of elevators and public spaces have No Durian signs; offices often forbid their workers from bringing durian in for lunch; in fact, the fruit is illegal throughout the entirety of Singapore.
I said that I was curious to try it, and remarked that the jackfruit we’d bought that day had smelled a little bit like the pre-packaged durian flesh I’d seen in the grocery store.
“Jackfruit doesn’t smell like durian,” he said.
Confident in my local fruit expertise, I argued that yes, jackfruit did smell a little like durian.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a jackfruit,” said another coworker, a Norwegian.
Declaring that it was really spiky and cool looking, I jumped up and ran to the kitchen to scrounge up a piece of jackfruit rind from the trash can.
“This,” I said, returning to the porch and holding my jackfruit rind out for all to see, “is a jackfruit.”
The Singaporean burst out laughing.
“No, love,” he said. “That’s a durian.”
So I guess I still don’t know how to eat a jackfruit. But I smelled, cut, and tasted the world’s most controversial fruit without even knowing it, so that’s gotta count for something, right?