May 14th, 2011

What are those things?

Sleep Inn guests might encounter some unusual fruits as they walk around San José. A few vendors near the hotel sell jocotes, manzanas de agua, and nísperos, tropical delicacies that a foreigner might not recognize. For the intrepid fruit-eater, here is an introduction to each.

A jocote looks like a smooth-skinned, miniature potato. It can vary in color from green to red, and it has a large seed. Jocotes grow on trees. The fruit is dryish, rather than juicy, and the eater mostly gnaws at its flesh. In Central America, people often salt their jocotes as they eat them. For some, jocotes are eaten more as a pastime than for their delicious flavor.

A manzana de agua–or “water apple,”–looks like a pale and slightly elongated apple or, perhaps, like a pale red pear. This fruit grows on trees as well. True to its name, the manzana de agua mostly tastes watery, although its flesh does have a slight sweetness. The fruit is so aromatic that some people describe its flavor as more of a perfumed fragrance than an actual taste.

The níspero is a fragrant yellow fruit that is small, like a grape, and slightly fuzzy. It, too, grows on trees and has a few shiny, brown seeds. The flesh of the níspero is sweet and fragrant, once again seeming almost like an aroma, as well as a flavor. In other countries, nísperos are known as “loquats.”

Of the three, we tend to recommend nísperos, as their flavor coyly suggests the tropics.

Read more about unusual Costa Rican fruits and an interesting Costa Rican vegetable.

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October 17th, 2008

Fruit You Crack Open

Of all the new fruits Costa Rican travelers encounter, mamones and granadillas often tend to be the most exotic and unfamiliar. Although Asian and Latin American countries now routinely export these fruits all over the world, they are still lesser known and, perhaps, more inscrutable than other fruits. Mamones and granadillas are similar to one another, in that they have a semi-hard outer shell that breaks open to reveal a pulpy and very tasty fruit. There are two varieties of mamones—mamón chino and the ordinary mamón.

In Asia, the mamón chino is known as a “rambutan.” It is similar to the Asian lychee. Mamones chinos grow in clusters and are about the size of large grapes. Each fruit has bright red skin that is covered in long spines. Although the fruit looks prickly, the spines are soft. To eat a mamón chino, you crack the side of the fruit with your thumbnail and peel away the outer spiny shell. The shell usually comes away in two pieces, revealing the soft, white fruit inside. Most people just slurp the fruit out from one half of the shell. The fruit is sweet, tender and very refreshing. In its center is a large inedible seed. June is the season for mamón chino, and, in season, the streets of San José are often littered with the shells of mamones chinos.

An ordinary mamón grows in much the same way that the mamón chino does, although it is slightly smaller in size. Its skin is light green and completely smooth. Some people call the fruit a “Spanish lime,” because of its lime-like appearance. The skin of a mamón  is also slightly hard and must be cracked open in the way a mamón chino is. The fruit of the mamón is an orangish pink and somewhat tangier than the fruit of the mamón chino. It, too, has an inedible seed. Its season begins in June and lasts longer than the mamón chino season.

Granadillas are about the size and shape of pears, and they are usually a mottled greenish orange. Their skin is very similar to that of mamones, in that it is slightly hard and shell-like. A granadilla should be cracked open near the stem end. This stem end can be removed, leaving a sort of cup filled with a mass of pulpy seeds. Costa Rican schoolchildren laugh about the mucus-like consistency of the seeds before slurping down the entire mass in one gulp. Others delicately pull small bits of seeds from within the “cup.” Some even scoop out the pulp with a spoon. The seeds of the fruit are edible and make a crunchy counterpart to the soft sweetness of the surrounding pulp. Granadilla is also called “passion fruit,” and it is available year-round.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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October 3rd, 2008

Green Mangoes are Great

When most people think of tropical fruit, they imagine ripeness—bright orange papayas, yellow pineapples, and deeply colored mangoes. Visitors to the tropics usually want their fruit sweet and juicy, not rock-hard and green. However, there is one Costa Rican fruit—mango—that is delicious long before it ripens.

Costa Ricans young and old love unripened mango. Schoolchildren climb mango trees and toss the green fruit down to their friends. Businesspeople eat green mango as a snack between meals.

Unlike a fully ripened mango, a green mango is very hard and has a thick skin. Its flesh is pale green and only slightly juicy. That juice, though, is wonderfully tart—the kind of tartness that pleasantly puckers lips. The seed of a green mango is white and waxy and resembles a very large bean.

Costa Ricans usually eat green mango the way Americans eat apples, biting at the firm flesh and eating all the skin. They avoid the seed, which is bitter. Some people sprinkle the mango with salt as they eat, because the salt plays nicely off the sourness of the fruit. Mango eaters with a little more time cut up the flesh of the fruit, squeeze it with lemon juice and sprinkle it with salt.

Green mango is delicious in all ways and is definitely something all Costa Rican visitors should try.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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September 11th, 2008

The Case for Cás

Some of the best items on Costa Rican restaurant menus are not actually food at all. They’re drinks–the frescos naturales, or natural fruit drinks, that most restaurants serve. Frescos are different from pure juice, or jugo, because they contain sugar. When you order a fresco at a restaurant, you will need to specify whether you want the fruit blended with water–en agua–or with milk–en leche. Both contain sugar.

Frescos are appealing, because restaurants rarely make them from pre-packaged concentrates or mixes of any kind. Instead, these drinks usually contain huge amounts of the freshest tropical fruit. Although almost any flavor of fresco is delicious–and a wonderful opportunity to try delicious fruits–one of the most unusual and tasty fresco flavors is cás.

A small, yellowish tropical fruit that grows on a tree, cás is very sour. Costa Ricans never eat it off the tree. Instead, they extract the pulp for a terrific juice.

Fresco de cás en agua is like a tropical lemonade. Cás drinks are cool and pleasantly tart with enough pulp to make them slightly frothy. They are the ideal accompaniment to a plate of rice and beans or a nice ceviche. Cás is refreshing on a hot day and is definitely the best of Costa Rica’s wide array of tropical drinks.

The Magnolia Restaurant in the Casino Club Colonial serves a delicious selection of frescos naturales.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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