If you have a soft spot for tropical and subtropical fruits, Burma is the place to be because here they grow. From A as in ‘Awza thee’ or custard apple, as it is called in English, to Z as in ‘Zee thee’ or plum. But there are not only tropical fruits in Burma. Here you get something for every taste even when allowing for the fact that not everyone likes every fruit and that non-tropical fruits like the apple are here not as tasty and juicy as in the countries they are native to.
Grapefruit or shaddock or pomelo is locally called ‘Kyew gaw thee’ but do not be mistaken, although the name pomelo is commonly used for both grapefruit and shaddock there are differences between them what goes for the fruits as well as their origin.
The grapefruit, being smaller and finer than the shaddock/pomelo and a variety that is bigger than the orange, is of yellow colour, globe-shaped, varies from 4 to 6 inch/10 to 19 cm in diameter and develops from large white blossoms and in clusters. The fruit consists of easily separable segments with juice cells and white seeds and a thick rind. Its acid pulp is usually light yellow in colour but a few pink-pulped varieties have been developed.
The grapefruit tree is covered by dense foliage of thick dark green leaves, grows to a height of approx. 20 feet/6 metres and is most probably originated from Jamaica. The grapefruit is readily crossed with other members of the citrus genus. It is a low-calorie food, an excellent source of vitamin C and ‘inositol’, a member of the vitamin B complex.
The grapefruit is common breakfast fruit, salad fruit and/or juice fruit. Since the people of Burma/Burma usually have a soft spot for everything that is sour this fruit is much liked here. The grapefruit is classified as a variety of ‘Citrus maxima’.
The shaddock or pomelo is native to Indonesia. It’s very large fruit that sometimes weighs 14 lb/6 kg and on average 10 lb/4.5 kg develops from equally very large white blossoms. It is roundish and of pale yellow colour. The bitter rind is thick and light yellow; the pulp is slightly acid and aromatic, greenish in colour and watery. It is a pleasant cooling fruit, often used for preserves but also eaten in a fresh state and processed into juice. Both shaddock and grapefruit are often called pomelo or pummelo. The shaddock is also classified as ‘Citrus maxima’.
Pomegranate, its local name is ‘The le thee’, is the common name for a small tree or thorny shrub in the pomegranate family and its fruit. The only genus is native to tropical Asia and is characterised by large solitary flowers. The pomegranate is of bushy growth with glossy leaves and red flowers.
The fruit is about the size of a large orange and filled with seeds. The fleshy outer seed coat consists of a sweet, acid, edible orange-red pulp. The astringent rind is used in medicine and for tanning. The tree is cultivated for its fruit in warm regions throughout the world. Dwarf varieties bear ornamental blossoms. The pomegranate belongs to the family ‘Punicaceae’ and is classified as ‘Punica granatum’. In Burma the pomegranate grows throughout the country. People eat the seeds and it is also processed into syrup.
The avocado, the Burma call it ‘Htawbhat thee’ or ‘butter fruit’, grows in Burma but although it is very nutritious and tasty it is relatively little known.
Avocado, because of its shape that resembles a large pear also called ‘alligator pear’, is the common name for a woody tree or shrub that produces aromatic oil in its tissues and is native to tropical America as well as for the fruit of the tree. The tree propagates by seeds that cannot disperse far as the seeds fall close to the tree/plant and germinate there almost at once.
The fruit is a greenish, thick-skinned drupe of the size of a large pear. When ripe its flesh has the consistency of firm butter and a faint nutlike flavour. The avocado has a high fat content, containing 10 to 20 percent oil that is reach in protein and is a good source for pyridoxine what is needed in proportion to the amount of protein consumed. The fruit is used chiefly for making salads and for soups. It is also eaten fresh with a spoon directly out of the skin.
The avocado tree belongs to the family ‘Lauraceae’ and is as this name implies a genus of the laurel family that has 30 to 50 genera and more than 2000 species. As such the avocado tree, classified as ‘Persea americana’ is related to e.g. the cinnamon and camphor.
The last before last year-round fruit to be included into this chapter is the coconut. Coconut, the local name of which is ‘Ohn thee’, is the common name for the fruit of a tree of the palm family, widely distributed in tropical regions. The tree, called coconut palm, has a cylindrical trunk about 18 inches/45 cm in diameter and can grow up to a height of 100 feet/30 metres. At the summit it bears a crown of about 20 primate leaves that generally curve downward, each of which is about 10 to 15 feet/3 to 4.5 metres long. The fruit grows in clusters of 10 to 20 or more nuts. 10 to 12 of these clusters may be seen on one tree.
The mature coconut is about 12 inch/ca. 30 cm long, is oval shaped, has a thick fibres outer husk and a hard inner shell. The lining or kernel of the inner shell is a white oily meat that is dried to produce commercially valuable ‘copra’. Copra contains 60 to 65 percent oil that is used in the manufacture of soaps and candles. Within the kernel is a sweet-tasting, milky fluid. The meat of the coconut is either raw or prepared an important food in the tropics. Raw and fresh it is soft as butter, very delicious and healthy at that. But be careful. The high contents of fat does – if eaten in too large a quantity – create serious stomach problems. So, do not overdo it. The coconut milk is best when drunk directly from the fresh nut. If you wait too long and drink it after the fermentation process has started you may get a bit tipsy. By the by, a famous local dish is ‘Ohn Thamin’ (coconut rice). It is very tasty; but be careful. Coconut rice raises the blood pressure. If you have problems with that do not forget to take your medicine. Also you will get a bit tired after having had some Ohn Thamin.
The coconut palm’s terminal bud, known as ‘palm cabbage’ is considered a delicacy and trees are often cut down for the sake of it. The central part of the young stem is also succulent and edible. The sap or ‘toddy’ is like that of some other palms a favourite beverage in tropical countries; either in the natural state or after fermentation, which takes place within a few hours. Palm wine, or arrack, also a spirituous liquor is obtained by distillation of fermented sap. The tree’s root possesses narcotic properties and is sometimes chewed. Dried leaves are used for thatch and by plaiting the leaflets, mats, screens and baskets are made. ‘Coir’, the fibre of the nut’s husk is used to make ropes and foot mats.
The coconut palm belongs to the family ‘Areaceae’ (formerly ‘Palmee’) and is classified as ‘Cocos nucifera’. The coconut is eaten in a fresh state, its milk drunken and the copra is shredded and used in candies and baked goods.
The last stop of our journey in the area of ‘year-round fruits’ of Burma is the fig or ‘Tha pan thee’ as it is called here. Fig is the common name of a genus of the mulberry family and the fruits of these plants. The common commercialised fig is native to Southeast Asia and widely cultivated in tropical and subtropical countries. The fig tree – another fact you may wonder at, a relative of the rubber tree – is about 15 to 25 feet/about 5 to 8 metres high.
The small flowers of it are borne on the inner surface of a fleshy, hollow organ called ‘receptacle’ and the fruit is the result of the further growth of this receptacle. Many cultivated commercial fig variations do not produce fertile blossoms for which reason for their fertilisation pollen of wild figs are used. Fruits of other variations develop without fertilisation. The fruits are usually green, pear-shaped, sweet and slightly aromatic. They contain a lot of small seeds. Figs are eaten in a fresh state, canned, dried and candied. Another member of the genus fig – this one being a very tall one – is the ‘pipal’ (this term has its roots in the Sanskrit term ‘pippala’) or ‘sacred fig’ that is growing in Southeast Asia. The fig – the Indian fig – is known as ‘Bo tree’ and highly venerated by Buddhists as Gautama Buddha is said to have received his ‘bodhi’ or Enlightenment while sitting under an Indian fig tree for which reason the ‘bo tree’ is sacred to his followers.
Bo trees life to a great age, grow to a height of about 100 feet/about 30 metres and their fruits are edible. The ‘Banyan’ is another species of fig that is growing widely in Burma but is native to India. Its fruits are of scarlet colour, only slightly bigger than a sherry, are ovate, heart-shaped and grow in pairs from the axils of the leaves. The banyan tree is believed to be the home of mythical beings called ‘Bilus’. Figs constitute the genus ‘ficus’, of the family ‘Moraceae’. The common commercialised fig is classified as ‘Ficus carica’, the pipal or sacred fig ‘Ficus religiosa’ and the banyan tree ‘Ficus bengalensis’. Two figs, native to tropical America, are classified as ‘Ficus aurea’ and ‘Ficus citrifolia’.
Let us now turn our attention to the category of seasonal fruits.
As for the seasonal fruits of Burma, the first ones to appear after having blossomed from December to March when the first monsoon rains (also called mango showers) have fallen are the mango closely followed by the jackfruit. As said previously, the best – one of which being the mango – we will keep till the end and therefore we continue with the jackfruit, locally called ‘Peing ne thee’.
Peing ne thee come into season at the beginning of the rainy season and can weigh more than 90 lb/40 kg. The fruit is eaten fresh and made into preserves. Like the durian that follows the jackfruit it is very much liked by the locals. Its pulp smells a bit less than durian but even that is still terrible enough.
The next to come are the durian and the mangosteen. Durian, locally known as ‘Du win thee’, is the common name for an evergreen tree native to the hot, humid rain forest regions of Southeast Asia where it grows and is cultivated for its fruit. The common name is derived from the Malaysian term for the tree’s fruit, which is ‘duryon’.
Durian trees grow usually to a height of 80 to 100 feet/24 to 30 metres. The fruit develops in clusters from about 5 centimetre long, white, yellow or pink blossoms and requires some 3 months developing and ripening.
The fruit is egg-shaped or round is surrounded by a thick green-yellowish to reddish-brown coloured rind that is covered with very hard and sharp spikes and weighs usually 6 to 8 lb/2.8 to 3.4 kg.
When ripe, the fruit simply drops from the tree and is often called the world’s most dangerous fruit for when hitting someone who happens to stand under the tree at the wrong time it can easily kill the unlucky person. That is, if the person does not wear a hart head what I believe to be most probably not the case. Inside the fruit that consists of a foul-smelling but by Burmese much liked – and as they say tasty – pulp are embedded 1 to 4 large seeds that are like the jackfruit seeds edible when boiled fried or roasted though they are rather tasteless. I am not a friend of either of them.
Usually, the pulp is eaten in a fresh state but also added to cakes and ice-cream, is cooked into curries and/or made into food preserve.
The durian tree grows mainly in Burma’s Mon State located in the southernmost part of the country, belongs to the ‘bombax’ family ‘Bombacaceae’ and is classified as ‘Durio zibethimus’.
The trouble with eating durian is not only the stench but also that the pulp heats up the body to an extent that some people may not find easy to cope with. But nature being nature it has solved this problem in its own way and the solution has a name: Mangosteen.
The ‘Mangosteen’ or ‘Min gu thee’ as it is locally called, comes into season at the same time the durian is ripe and is the fruit of a tree that is native to the Moluccas, which are part of the Malay Archipelago and a province of Indonesia.
The mangosteen tree that grows very slow and does not bear fruits until having reached an age of 9 to 10 years propagates by seed, grows to a height of some 20 feet/6 metres and the fruit resembles in shape and size an orange. This fruit is an antidote to the disturbing durian side-effect and has the reputation of being one of the most delicious tropical fruits, which is something readily confirmed by those who have eaten it; I am one of them. The only trouble with the mangosteen fruit is that its big seeds are surrounded by a much too thin layer of very delicious pure white pulp. But the reward is well-worth the trouble. The reddish-purple rind surrounding the fruit has medicinal properties as it contains tannic acid effective against diarrhoea and dysentery.
The tree thrives like the durian tree in the Mon State’s areas of Mawlamyaing and Kyaiktiyo as well as in the northerly on the Mon State bordering Kayin State, belongs to the family ‘Clusiaceae’ (formerly ‘Guttiferae’) and is classified as ‘Garcinia mangostana’.
The next seasonal fruits are the guava and rambutan, followed by the pineapple. ‘Guava’ or ‘Ma la ga thee’, is the common name for any of the small trees or shrubs of the myrtle family and their fruits. Guavas are native to the tropics of America but nowadays cultivated throughout the world. The most common cultivated guava bears white or yellow fruits about the size of an orange or apple.
The guava tree can reach a height of 20 feet/6 metres and is native to and cultivated in Florida/USA. Strawberry guava has been cultivated in tropical America since pre-Columbian times and in Florida and southern California it is occasionally grown as an ornamental. The guava is a good source of vitamin C and is in Burma eaten chiefly in a fresh state but can also be made into pastes, jellies and preserves. When eaten with its seeds the fruit may cause constipation. So, if you do not want to run any risk, scoop or cut them out before you enjoy the tasty pulp. Guavas belong to the family ‘Myrtaceae’. While the most common cultivated one is classified ‘Psidium guajava’, the strawberry guava (‘strawberry’ because the fruit tastes somewhat like strawberry) is classified as ‘Psidium littorale’.
Rambutan, ‘Chet mauk thee’ in Burmese, is the name for the Malaysian tree classified as ‘Nepholium lappaceum’ and the fruit it bears.
The pulp of the fruit is white in colour and sweet but slightly acid in taste. It is covered by a medium-thick red-yellow rind with long, soft spines. The name rambutan has its roots in the Malay term for hair, ‘rambut’ with allusion to the fruits spines. Rambutan is eaten in a fresh state or tinned and also processed into syrup.
Pineapple or ‘Na na thee’ in Burmese is distributed throughout Burma but the best, which are a little smaller than other varieties but very sweet and fragrant, come from Myitkyina.
Pineapple is the common name for a flowering plant family which is characterised by unique water-absorbing leaf scales and regular, three-parted flowers.
The pineapple is growing to a height of about 3 feet/1 metres. Its leaves are spirally arranged sheath or blades usually occurring in layers. The plant embryos have one seed leaf. The family contains more than 2.000 species placed in 46 genera.
They are almost exclusively native to the tropics and subtropics of America. One species is occurring in western Africa. The pineapple is widely cultivated in tropical areas in the first line for its – when ripe – mostly sweet and juicy fruit.
Pineapple have several flowers clustered on one stem and although the ovaries develop individually all fruitlets together combine into one single, larger fruit, called multiple fruit. Pineapple makes up the family ‘Bromeliaceae’ and the order of the ‘Bromeliales’. The commonly known pineapple is classified as ‘Ananas comosus’. Pineapple contains vitamin C or ascorbic acid, is eaten in the fresh state sliced or in fruit salads, used as ingredient for cooking and also processed into juice, jam dried slices and made into preserves.
Another tropical, seasonal fruit that that grows and is cultivated throughout the whole of Burma is the ‘Awza thee’ or ‘custard apple’.
Custard apple is the common name for a huge family that, by the by, includes also the magnolia. The family comprises more than 2.000 species of mostly tropical trees and shrubs.
Members of the family have aromatic leaves and fragrant flowers that do typically comprise six petals from which the fruit develops. The fruit is usually global-shaped, brown to yellowish green with a yellow or yellowish-white pulp. The fruits, an aggregate of berries, what is the explanation for its having many small, white seeds are aromatic and sweet-tasting and include the in tropical regions growing sweetsop, soursop and cherimoya. The ylang-ylang tree, a native of Southeast Asia, produces delicately smelling flowers the oil of which is distilled and used in perfume.
In Burma, the custard apple that likes hot and dry climate grows mainly and abundantly in the central dry plane, especially in the Mount Popa area, located about 31 miles/about 50 kilometres southeast of Bagan, where it grows very big and is of extraordinary sweet taste. Another area known for custard apples of high quality is the area around Pyay, which lies between Pagan and Yangon.
The custard apple is eaten in the fresh state only and is not in any form preserved. It perishes very rapidly and can therefore not be stored for long. If you eat the fruit please do not scoop or cut out the seeds as the seed-pods they are embedded in are very delicious and their being eaten is worth the trouble of spitting out the seeds.
The custard apple belongs to the family ‘Annonaceae’. The representative is ‘Annona’. The sweetsop is classified as ‘Annona squamosa’, the soursop as ‘Annon muricata’, the cherimoya as ‘Annon cherimola’ and the ylang-ylang tree as ‘Cananga odorata’.
The custard apple is followed by the orange, locally called ‘Leing maw thee’. Orange is the common name for citrus fruits of several trees. Different varieties include the sweet orange, the sour orange and the mandarin orange or tangerine. The fruit is technically a kind of berry, develops from a white or purplish blossom and consists of easily separable sections, called carpels, each one containing several seeds and many juice cells covered by a leathery skin containing numerous oil glands.
One sour orange species is native to Brazil and is a seedless orange with medium-thick rind. In the ‘navel’ at the bottom of the fruit grows a second, small abortive orange. The orange tree seldom exceeds 30 feet/9 metres in height. Three essential oils are obtained from oranges: ‘oil of orange’ obtained from the rind of the fruit and used principally as a flavouring agent; ‘oil of petigrain’ obtained from the leaves and twigs used in perfumery and ‘oil of neroli’ obtained from blossoms and used in perfumery and flavouring.
Oranges are almost exclusively native to Southeast Asia and belong to the family ‘Rutaceae’ and the genus ‘Citrus’, are a good source of vitamin C and are mainly eaten in the fresh state plain or in fruit salad. They are also canned, processed into extracts, juice and orangeade, made into marmalade and are used as cooking ingredients and dried as baking ingredient.
The watermelon, or ‘Pa ye thee’ in Burmese, is a member of the gourd family and a type of melon that is cultivated extensively for its sweet-tasting and refreshing fruit. Its original habitat is Africa, particularly the Kalahari Desert, and it grows as a trailing wine. Today it is cultivated globally. The fruit is rounded, oblong and berrylike. It grows to very large sizes and can reach about 24 inches (about 61 cm) in length and a weight of about 50 lb (about 30 kg). The rind is quite thick and monochrome green or striped. The watermelon’s pulp is of watery-sweet taste, usually red in colour and contains many white to black, flat and pointed seeds, which dried and roasted, give a nice snack.
To eat watermelon is especially when the weather is hot very refreshing – even more so when the flesh is slightly chilled – and something that should not be missed. But be careful with buying ready sliced watermelon from street vendors as the fruit is an attractor to flies.
Certainly, I do not want to spoil the fun but you can get seriously ill and even die if you take my warning not seriously. That is a price not even the most delicious watermelon is worth to be paid for. The watermelon is not preserved in any way, a member of the family ‘Cucurbitaceae’ and is classified as ‘Citrulla lanatus’.
Now that we are approaching the end we have reached the point at which a show master – accompanied by the roll of the drum – might say: “And now, ladies and gentleman, the moment we have all been impatiently waiting for so long has finally arrived. Let us give a very, very warm welcome and a big hand to the top-stars of the show and highlights of the evening (roll of drum crescendoing and curtain rising) the ‘Mango Sisters’ and ‘Mr. Papaya’.”
And here they are: the ‘Mango Sisters’, ‘Ma chitu’ (Ms. ‘Love’ or ‘Lover’), ‘Sein talone’ (Ms. ‘One Diamond’) and ‘Myakyout’, (Ms. ‘Emerald Stone’) in the flesh.
These three are coming out at the top of their class as no other of the many kinds and varieties of mango are as sweet, tender and delicious as they are.
Mango, locally called ‘Tha yet thee’, is the common name for a tree and its fruit. The mango tree is native to India and widely grown in the tropics and subtropics for its succulent fruit. In Burma mangoes are grown in Upper and in Lower Burma but due to the hot and dry climate in upper Burma the Tha yet thee coming from there are a little bit superior to those growing in Lower Burma although the latter are already a sensation in taste. The best mangoes come from ‘Pyay’ in central Burma. Burma mangoes are truly a class of their own; absolutely delicious.
The mango’s peel is very tough and its stone is flat and quite big but what is between skin and stone is something to kill for. My favourite is Ma Chitu; she is the loveliest of all of them. The fruit, a fleshy drupe, is kidney-shaped and greenish, yellowish or reddish in colour.
Mango belongs to the family ‘Anacardiaceae’ and is classified as ‘Magnifera indica’. There are mainly 2 ways to cut a mango to eat it fresh from the tree so to say. One way is to slice the fruit from top to bottom vertically. This way you get three slices; the middle part comprising to 90 percent of the kernel and the right and left outer slices called ‘cheeks’. You can then simply spoon the pulp out of the peel/skin that so to say constitutes the ‘bowl’. It is important to know that it is not possible to take the kernel out of the pulp the way you may do it with a peach (and even that is difficult enough) because mango kernel and pulp are grown together. The second way is to cut the mango in just the same way and then to cut the pulp (like jelly in a bowl) into cross-sections. Now only the skin ward parts of the pulp are clinking to the solid skin. The next step is to press from outside on the skin so that the pulp is turned outwards. Now you have something that looks (by a little stretch of fantasy) like a hedgehog, the spikes being the pieces of mango pulp. Now you can easily bit away the pieces from the skin. But be careful; the mangoes are very, very juicy and the juice is dripping and running down your hands and wrists; use a tissue to avoid embarrassment owing to juice on your clothes.
Mango is eaten in many forms in Burma. The green mango (unripe), which is extremely sour (by comparison even a lemon is rather sweet), is pounded with matching ingredients such as e.g. onion, chilli and dry shrimp into a shrimp paste. Another form is the preserved mango or pickled mango. Mango is also eaten as side-dish and green mango salad ‘Tha yet thoke’ with onion, bean powder, dry shrimps, pea nuts, white cabbage, garlic and peanut oil (very, very tasty!). It is also processed into juice that is absolutely delicious.
Last but not least, the ‘Tha yet thee’ is – like the banana bud – also an important and often seen architectural design element in Burma. It is called ‘Tha Yet Kin’, which means ‘Small Green Mango’. It is a design that depicts the shape of an unripe mango with its at this stage very apparent curvature at the tip of the fruit and can be found, among others, on the beginning part (the lower part) of railings of staircases leading e.g. up to ‘Payas’, pagodas and ‘Kyaungs’, Buddhist monasteries.
The papaya, its local name being ‘Thin baw thee’, is in contrast to the mango – which is a seasonal fruit – a year-round fruit.
Papaya is the common name for the family ‘Caricaceae’ and its representative genus. Four genera and about 30 species of papaya are placed in this family of dicots, one of the two large groups of flowering plants. The common papaya is classifies as ‘Carica papaya’ and is also called ‘pawpaw’ or ‘papaw’. It is native to the tropical regions of central and South America but its exact origin is unknown. It is however widely cultivated in the tropics and many varieties have been developed. Papaya trees can when growing wild reach a height of only about 6 feet/1.8 metres while when cultivated they may grow to about 25 feet/7.6 metres high.
The papaya fruit, varying in shape from spherical to elongate can weigh up to 20 lb/9 kg and is mainly eaten in a fresh state as breakfast fruit, side dish, in salads or dessert.
Since the sap of the papaya tree and the juice of the papaya fruit contain ‘papain’, a protein digesting enzyme in special latex-producing cells, meat gets not only tender earlier than usual but also more tender as usual when pieces of green papaya are added to the meat while it is cooking. For this reason papaya is also exploited for its latex that contains this digestive aid, which is used in meat tenderiser. Now you know why and how meat tenderiser is working and what you must do next time when the meat is too though.
Papaya also has medicinal properties as it, for instance, promotes digestion. So much so, that I recommend not overdoing it in terms of quantity when eating papaya although I know it is hard to stop once one has started to enjoy the delicious papaya fresh or as salad.
At this time I deem it warranted to warn you. When you are eating papaya salad here in Rakhine State (or e.g. in Thailand where it is called Som Tam/Tum, or Viet Nam where it is called Di Du Du) you need to be aware that it will be very, very hot; my recommendation: When ordering the papaya salad, tell the people to go easy on chilli.
Now we have reached the end of our long journey through the flora of Burma and I hope that you have enjoyed it (I have done my best to keep things entertaining) and on our way developed an appetite for the ‘Fruits of Burma’. They are at their best here in Burma where they grow and are waiting for you. Come and enjoy eating them.