by Cassidy Armbruster
Truthfully, they are laughing with me and at me. Phi, my guide from the Hoi An tour, and I were making our way on a Vespa through the scenic countryside when we passed a group of women and children outside of their home poking a long bamboo stick with some sort of hook to pull at the mango stems so they would fall gracefully into the bed sheet. As we passed the group, Phi explained the process of mango picking, and without much though I said, “I want to try.”
“You want to try?” Phi asked me. Then he whipped the Vespa around, and headed back towards the women and children. Phi explained to them that I wanted to give it a try, and they willingly handed me the bamboo stick. At first a young woman helped me pull several mangoes from the tree. They plopped continuously and effortlessly into the bed sheet, or so I thought. Then she backed away so I could give it a whirl alone. I was unsuccessful. I tried and tried, and failed and failed. The woman resisted when I tried handing the bamboo stick back, and instead they all laughed while gesturing to keep trying. I couldn’t help but laugh too. Here I am, tall and lanky; in fact, I’m almost a foot closer to the tree than them, yet I was unable to pluck a single mango from the tree. They made mango picking look graceful and fun, while I made it look difficult and dangerous as I kept dropping the long wobbly bamboo stick.
Eventually the women accepted my proposal to hand back the bamboo stick. Phi asked to buy a mango because they were supposedly of very good quality, but the women insisted they were not for sale. Fruit is an extremely important element of the Vietnamese diet. As an individual from the Midwest of the United States, tropical fruits are extremely rare to come by, thus on my daily excursions throughout Hoi An I have encountered several fruits I have never heard of or seen before.
For example, a couple of days ago I tried on a dress at a shop near Old Hoi An. Since the dress didn’t quite fit, and the store was nearly empty, the tailor offered me a seat while I waited for her to lengthen my dress. The woman insisted I eat some of what I came to find is an edible fruit produced from a longan tree. I peeled the harsh skin off the edges to find a translucent, sweet fruit with a pit at the center. Another Vietnamese tailor was sitting across from me and was eating the fruit whole, and spitting the seed out, where as I tried peeling at the fruit, and ended up dripping sticky juice all over my hands and legs. The tailor laughed, brought me a towel, and then demonstrated how to properly eat the fruit. She also dipped the fruit in a chili salt before taking a bite. Although I personally could do without the chili salt, I recommend at least giving it try!
The best place I recommend if you’re interested in trying fresh, local, and unique Vietnamese fruits and vegetables is the chaotic Hoi An market. This morning, after drinking a small iced coffee with muesli, I made my way through the market to try some fruit, and was overwhelmed by the variety and quantity. There were pineapples, plums, papaya, passionfruit, jackfruit, dragonfruit, durian (the smelliest fruit in the world), langsat, longan, and all kinds of bananas I was unaware existed. The most interesting of them all was the jackfruit, which I was informed can weigh up to 35 kg (80 lbs.). If you end up on our Hoi An day tour, look out for some giant jackfruit growing outside of the homes and businesses you visit because I came across a few jackfruit trees!