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Ramblings Of A Traveler – SE Asia #3

#3 FRUITS & NUTS A TOURIST CAN NOT AVOID

  1. Fruits (Durian and Lychee Nuts)

Durian: This fruit, when cut into, smells like an unfiltered open air sewer mixed with 100 proof body odor stemming from worst, imaginable dirty feet and underarms all rolled into one, and I am not exaggerating even a little bit. When cut into on the ground floor of a hotel, the nauseating smell can primate all the way to at least the 15th floor and travels much faster then a hotel elevator. It makes me wonder what the poor sucker did that his punishment was to be the first to taste one of these overpowering, smelly fruits. I think he had to have been somebody’s slave of ancient times that was being severely punished. Inside the fruit, you will find a yellow pudding-like texture and an intense sweet, tropical flavor similar to passion fruit. The locals love it, and I will take their word for it, because I’ll have to admit didn’t try even a little bit. I do have limits. But I did see a lot of it at vendor street stalls and growing on trees. These suckers can get as big as an average sized Asian person and have a really thick shell. Its interesting to note that anywhere the tourist stays whether it be a hotel, hostel, homeroom (rent-a-room in a local’s house), or other touristy accommodation, Durian is not allowed to be kept, brought in or cut into, and that’s the case in all three countries I visited. Nummy!

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Lychee Nut: Technically a fruit, but looks like a nut before it is peeled. Actually, I think it looks like a 2in diameter bug. It’s red and stickery and threatening looking. It looks like it could make uncovered tourist fingers bleed if touched, but it’s just kidding. Its outside peel is really soft and thin. A nice ripe one can be easily peeled without a knife. The inside fruit is the consistency and color of fresh eyeball and wonderfully sweet and juicy. Yes, I did have many, many, many of these. The first one I tried was at the Holiday Inn Resort and Spa on Kho (means island in Thai) Phi Phi (h is silent) where the not-so-great movie, “The Beach” was filmed and starred a very young Leonardo DiCaprio. The wonderful Thai island scenery (not to mention Leo) makes the movie somewhat worth watching. I was seating on a beautiful deck facing the very calm turquoise water sipping an outstanding Lychee Nut (technically a fruit) martini. I don’t think it was the Lychee Nut, but something in the drink made me a little tipsy – I had more than one, but lost count. The vision of this place still pops up when I least expect it in my fondest daydreams. Nummy, really nummy! I did not pass up a chance to have another Lychee Nut (technically a fruit) for the rest of the entire trip.

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2. Nuts (pine nuts, cashews, peanuts, and deep fried bugs)

Pine Nuts, Unsalted Cashews, and Asian Peanuts: A staple in SE Asian cooking. SE Asian cooks hide nuts in everything from fried rice to noodle soup to stir-fry to satay (chicken on stick), to papaya salad (hottest, spiciest dish on the planet), to most very numerous, very delectable, very delicious SE Asian sauces. I will guarantee you; you will be served nuts when you least expect it. If you are allergic to nuts, you will probably either get very hungry on your trip, should stay home (that is pretty extreme), or only eat at the tourist places where they speak English. It would be like not eating rice, which I don’t think can be done in SE Asia unless you pack your own food, and what fun is that?

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Coconut: This is the building block nut and mainstay of SE Asia. They do not waste one thing on a coconut. Coconuts are as important to the SE Asian culture as rice, water buffalo, or tuk-tuks (mode of transportation any guidebook will go on and on about). Some things made from coconut are baskets, rugs, spoons, bikini bras, candy (pictured below), soup, charcoal, building foundation, monkey climbing trees, cat climbing trees, roofs, animal feed, people feed, medicine, musical instruments, electrical poles and fences, tourist trinkets, sculpture and not to mention awesome alcohol refreshment, which I particularly enjoyed.

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Deep-fried Bugs: Technically not a fruit or a nut, but let’s not get technical here. Deep fried bugs are a delicacy in Cambodia. Now, SE Asia does not have the corner on deep fried bugs. I have been to several countries, i.e. Mexico, Bolivia, Costa Rico, some islands in the Caribbean that farm beetles, grasshoppers, and ants. They dry and spice them and serve them to the unsuspecting tourist with beers and cocktails – of course you will pay for them and they are not cheap, but if you have enough beers you won’t know the difference. However, in Cambodia, they dug up bugs along the banks of muddy rivers, and I swear these are the biggest, toughest, scariest looking creatures I have ever seen. They are about 2 to 3 inches long, but to me, they looked about as big a hairless chihuahua and bad, bad, bad. I’ll tell you what, if Cambodian deep fried bugs were the only things I had to snack on, I would give up snacking for good, and that would be great plus for some much needed weight loss. Believe me, I neither helped the local folks dig em up, put em in buckets, dry em or eat em. It messed with mind just taking a picture of them. I’ll take my beer without snacks, please. Actually, I was told these bugs are a delicacy for local boys (drinking age) only. I don’t know for sure, but that’s just what I was told.

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Myth: In the three SE Asia countries I visited, I was told they do not eat dogs, cats, or serve road kill to tourists. That’s what I was told, and I believe it. I saw a whole bunch of dogs and cats running around in every neighborhood and every tourist site we visited. Dogs and cats were present in open-air bars and beach restaurants. But these were very well behaved dogs and cats unlike in the USA. For the most part, they didn’t beg (unless you had beach barbeque chicken satay), they didn’t jump on your table; they didn’t chase the tourists, they didn’t follow you home, or didn’t understand English. But in Vietnam, the rats and snakes have been hunted almost to extinction. It turns out, rats and snakes like to hang out and cause all sorts of destruction in rice fields. Well that’s a big no no. If you mess with the rice fields, you die. But, it also turns out the local folks like to eat rats and snakes. They say they are very nourishing, like a complete food source with all the protein, vitamins, and minerals one needs. So guess what? They farm them – excellent problem solving – now they have a continuous supply. Nummy! Not sure what this has to do with fruits and nuts, but it’s an interesting fact, sort of.

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A really dumb tourist behavior is not to eat the fruit and nuts in SE Asia. And you really can’t avoid them anyway. To eat a French croissant isn’t a bad idea either. Vietnam was a French colony in the 1800s to early 1900s, and the local folks never forgot how to make croissants or crepes. I don’t know where they get the flour, as I didn’t see any wheat growing anywhere. Maybe they just import the croissants fresh daily from France? Pictured below is a lychee nut in the top right part of the plate that I am getting ready to down (it’s the red, stickery looking thing). What looks like a grapefruit is not. I don’t know what it is, but it’s about 4 times larger than a grapefruit segment in the USA and tastes like a grapefruit, but when I asked a local person he said something in Thai that I didn’t understand so I took that mean it was not grapefruit. Also, fried rice is served for all meals and snacks and delicious isn’t even a good word for how wonderful it is. Oh another thing, you can leave your chopsticks at home. Locals use forks, knives, and spoons except for noodles. But I did witnessed some tourists eating noodles with their fingers, so no sweat if you don’t pack the chopsticks – just takes up extra room.

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With that said, this is the end of my SE Asia series. I hope you got something out of my ramblings – if not factual (I never claimed to be) then maybe you can get a clue of what not to do. And for those of you who can’t read, hopefully you will at least looked at the pictures.

Please, Please Remember, don’t be a fruit or nut by dancing or singing with the SE Asian native performers. They know how to do this, and they don’t need your help! Besides, you would really look and sound goofy.

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I am hoping to post a 3 part “not-to-be missed” series entitled, “Ramblings of a Cuba Traveler” soon. I’ll see how this first series goes.

So for now, happy travels wherever you might end up.

Till the Next Post,

PSiddy

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