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The Fruit I Traveled 9000 Miles to Eat

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It's crazy to travel halfway around the world to eat a piece of fruit.

But I'd be lying if I said that snake fruit (salak in Bahasa Indonesia) didn't account for 85% of why I wanted take a trip to Indonesia this winter.

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I'd tasted the reptilian fruit (its skin is scaly and even a bit sharp) seven-and-a-half years ago and had not seen it anywhere in the U.S. since. With the texture of garlic, the concentrated sweetness of an apple, marble-like pits, and fun lobes you can pull apart, the snake fruit is an eligible candidate for an unrequited, impossible love.

Holding hands with my beloved salak.
Holding hands with my beloved salak.

While we source a lot of elusive ingredients for photo shoots, we've never been called upon to source salak, and for that I am grateful. A quick Google search for sources in the U.S. turns up almost no results. (Nope, it's probably not even in Chinatown.)

Once we touched down in the country, it was everywhere: Heck, it was at the airport! And then once we left the airport, it was at the market and sold by the side of a the highways, stacked to the tipping point in trucks with "Organik" and "Super" signs.

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(Strangely, it was not served at any of our hotels; my guess is that it might be thought not appeal to foreign guests.)

But I was naïve to think that I had traveled only for snake fruit. Our guidebook had a whole section of Indonesian fruits, many of which can only be found there. I tried mangosteens and longan and soursop and rambutan and a jam made with a wild berry known as buni. I did not try durian but it smelled up many a street.

Two other Indonesian natives: rambutan and pomelo.

And then there was the mysterious jambu air, which our guidebook called a "water apple," a name that greatly appealed to this apple obsessive. (It's also known as a rose apple.) On our second to last day, we explained to our taxi driver, who was pointing out the rambutan and dragon fruit trees drooping with fruit right off the road, that we were still looking for the pink, bell-shaped fruit.

He spotted the thing we'd spent two weeks looking for on a nearby tree. (A miracle!) He pulled over, rang the doorbell of the nearby house, and plucked us fruit to try. They weren't so ripe and were a bit hard and watery, but nevertheless, the taste—something like a melon but sweeter and sharper—was nothing I'd experienced before.

Jambu air, how happy I was to hold you! (Even if you're not quite ripe.)
Jambu air, how happy I was to hold you! (Even if you're not quite ripe.)

Let this be my lesson to think beyond restaurants (and grocery stores) when I'm traveling—and to seek out markets, fruit stalls, and trees (as long as I ask permission first).

It's a wonderful thing that there are still fruits that can only be found in one place in the world, and I may have never seen them had my eyes been focused only on the breakfast at our hotel or dinner at a café.

I guess I'll just have to go back for that durian.

Tags: snake fruit, fruit, indonesia, asian, southeast asian