Friday, February 24, 2012

Sapote episodes - a short story

The promise of the chocolate-pudding fruit was irresistible. “Ready in two days”, the Cairns roadside vendor assured me, “when it’s soft”. I did a quick calculation of the timing of our route and figured we’d have ample time to eat the black sapote before crossing into the Northern Territory.
A few days later, as we neared the border, our fourth passenger, the black sapote, was as hard and shiny as it had been two days before.  I tried valiantly to distract my driver from the ominous quarantine road signs, but he was a law-abiding man on this occasion and pulled over at a roadside shelter armed with his pocket-knife. I thought I saw glimpses of dark treasure as the knife pierced the skin, but I was mistaken.  Instead we were faced with a green watery inedible mass and there was no hint of chocolate pudding in my first sapote experience.
My second sapote experience happened a few years later in Ho Chi Minh City on the breakfast table of the majestic Majestic Hotel.  It was the closest thing to a caramel pudding fruit I had ever tasted, this brown fruit with a fudge-like grain and the flavour of intense caramel. I returned many times to the breakfast fruit table and then bribed seven year old Jorge to return on my behalf. The memory of the fruit lingered all morning as we trudged through the humid and noisy streets into Ben Thanh Markets.  What delight as I encountered stall after stall selling this beautiful fruit, the brown sapote, peeled, sliced, bagged and ready to be eaten.
Today, I had my third sapote experience. A hard woody-skinned fruit resembling a sweet potato in size and shape, the yellow (Mamoy) sapote was on sale for $8.95/kg at Adelaide’s Central Market. Apparently there is also a white and yellow (not this yellow) sapote. Almost all the varieties come from Central and South America and are very popular in South East Asia. The Cambodian fruit stall attendant advised me that the sapote would not be ready to eat for several days, “when it’s soft”. I am due to return to Alice Springs in two days and want to avoid another disappointing sapote episode.
My senses are drawn to nearby group of people buzzing around a box of orange shiny fig-sized fruit. “Achacha”, according to the sign. This is the first year the fruit has been sold, and the achacha has become a celebrity in its own right, with its own website and television appearances. The name itself is new, derived from the original: Achachairu.  Another native of Central America, Bolivia, the achacha is covered by a shiny thick bitter skin that peels away easily to reveal a white fleshy layer around a large brown seed.  My friend, the stall-keeper, describes it as being “like a mangosteen”, not the most known of fruits. The flesh is sweet with a texture similar to custard apple but a bit more tang. I’m not disappointed, but it’s not quite the sapote pudding experience I was hoping for. Perhaps if it had been renamed: “the vanilla mousse fruit”, rather than the obscure “achacha” I might feel differently. I think I’ll buy that Mamoy sapote after all.
©  Rita Cattoni 2012