We all know that there is a lot of difference between Western and Chinese cooking styles, food, drinks etc, but partly due to different climates and geographical locations, Chinese fruits are also quite different to what we would regard as a ‘normal’ fruit. These unusual fruits are a must-try while you’re visiting or living in China.
Rambutan 红毛丹 (hóng máo dān)
Once the rambutan’s hairy exterior is peeled away, its deliciously sweet and sticky flesh is revealed inside, with a large woody seed in the middle. This is a relative of lychee and longan as we will see later, and has a hairy exterior. Once the red skin is peeled it reveals a strikingly similar lychee-like interior, deliciously sweet and sticky flesh that tastes grape-like. It can be eaten cooked or fresh. The seed is actually edible after cooked.
Durian 榴莲 (liúlián)
The durian is one of the most unusual fruits in the world due to its smell and look. This fruit is revered in Southeast Asia as the King of Fruits, and is so loved and or hated by people that it can be referred to as the Marmite of fruits. Renowned for its pungent smelly odour, it’s actually been banned from Singapore’s subway/metro. Yet many Chinese people can’t get enough of its texture and rich flesh. It’s so popular that in China, there are candies made in durian flavor. In fact, there are even restaurants in China that serve durian pizzas! However, don’t eat too much, because according to traditional Chinese medicine it could burn your insides and set you alight! The thorn covered husk along with its pungent odour is the hallmark of the durian.
Bayberry 杨梅 (yángméi)
This fruit is native to China and is known as the bayberry. It’s a Chinese strawberry by its scientific name, Myrica rubra. Its exterior is spiky and red and is completely edible with a pit in the centre. There are various ways to fully utilize the bayberry – it can be eaten fresh, dried or fermented to make baijiu, a Chinese liquor. (Check out our Facebook or Instagram to see our video about Chinese Baijiu.)
Buddhas Hand 佛手 (fóshǒu)
This strange fruit looks like a lemon with tentacles emerging from it, and although it can be eaten, it is coveted for its intense fragrant citrusy aroma. Because Buddha’s hand fruit is very fragrant, it is used predominantly in China and Japan as perfume or room/clothes freshener. In China, the Buddha’s hand fruit is a symbol of happiness, longevity and good fortune. The plant is sensitive to frost, as well as intense heat and drought. It grows best in a temperate climate. The Buddha’s hand is also used as an ornamental plant.
Lychee 荔枝 (lìzhī)
Of all the unusual fruits mentioned in this article, the lychee is probably the most known to the non-Chinese. Native to China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia, lychee belongs to the soapberry family. The lychee also possesses a spiky red exterior. It’s slightly larger than a cherry, with its seed encompassed by an inedible skin and relatively translucent milky flesh. Its flesh is extremely sweet, soft and white in colour, with plenty of Vitamin C. Lychee is predominantly eaten fresh, but also canned and commonly served in Chinese desserts.
Dragon Fruit 火龙果(huǒlóng guǒ)
The dragon fruit is the poster boy of exotic Chinese fruit, despite originally coming from South America. Its exterior resembles dragon scales, while its flesh is white with spotted black seeds. Despite its flamboyant outer skin, it tastes relatively mild and quite bland. There is also another version of the dragon fruit with red flesh and black seeds inside. It is believed that Dragon Fruit can help anyone suffering from a bout of indigestion.
Mangosteen 山竹 (shānzhú)
The mangosteen actually originates from Indonesia, but has won over the hearts and minds of Chinese people all over the country, becoming a staple feature of fruit stalls and markets alike. Its hard purple exterior protects its soft, white flesh. Once peeled open, the mangosteen gives out a fragrant smell, with a sweet and tangy taste when eaten.
Longan 龙眼 (lóngyǎn)
The longan has a Chinese name that translates into “dragon eye” due the resemblance of its flesh and seed to the eye of the dragon. The meat is translucent, while the seed is dark brown or black. It is similar to the lychee, which also belongs to the soapberry family, although the longan is sweeter and less juicy. It can be eaten fresh but is often dried as a snack or as an addition to Chinese savoury dishes. Dried longans are commonly used in Chinese desserts.
So next time your shopping around a fruit stall or market in China, or even Chinatown for that matter, look out for some of these unusual fruits and give them a try!