Locomotoring

Seven continents, seven seas, seven billion people and seven thousand good eats …

How to take on the summer heat in Kolkata

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The smaller "bubblegum" variety

Immature seeds of palm fruit

Summer in Kolkata is typically not hotter than 100F but your skin feels like a dripping faucet, each pore that is. After a while, you don’t even want to wipe off the sweat. It is cooler to not have to make that effort. At times like this, the only remedy is to take a cool shower. As the cooling begins, feel free to sing aloud in bliss. After the shower, move as quickly as possible to the nearest air-conditioned room. Switch on the ceiling fan at full speed and sprawl on a bed – maximum surface area for the skin-air contact. When you need to be out in the heat again, do so and repeat the cooling regime.

Prying open the shell of jackfruit to reveal the golden edible cocoons

Picking up the cocoons

Palm fruit

Prying loose the seeds of palm fruit

For food, I suggest that you forego the thought of cooking. Instead survive on mangoes, jackfruit and young palm fruit seed. Mangoes are now familiar everywhere in the world but if you haven’t eaten one from the tropics, you haven’t really eaten a mango. Sindoori, Langra, Desheri, Begunfuli, Himsagar, Alfonso and various other varieties flood the markets, each with its characteristic fragrance and taste. Start with soaking the mangoes in water for an hour or so. Summers are so hot that even the fruits need a bath! OK, the actual reason is that some of the tropical varieties can make you mouth itch, presumably for more mangoes, and to prevent this itchiness soak the mangoes near the stem-end. Refrigerate. When ready to eat, peel the skin which is about an eighth of an inch thick. Some say that the best way to eat a mango is standing on the beach with waves swirling around you. But if you don’t want to get out of that air conditioned room, drag a bathtub in your air-conditioned room or air-conditioner in your bathroom. Alternately, cut the flesh in 1/2 inch pieces avoiding the seed and eat.

Jackfruits are perhaps not as familiar as mangoes. This fruit looks similar to durian without the ill-famed odor. Give the fruit a good wash, slide in a knife by an inch towards the stem end and then start to peel open the 1/4 inch thick skin. Inside, you will see golden yellow 1.5-3 inch long fleshy cocoons that come off easy. Set these aside and cool them in the refrigerator. Once cool, discard seed and the membrane adjacent to the seed and eat. In kolkata, one finds two varieties. A juicy variety with a small coccon which tastes like vanilla custard but upon chewing further results in a loose bubblegum textured masticated remain which some people may find somewhat hard to swallow or spit out. The other variety has longer coccons that are crisp textured and not juicy or custard like but without the bubblegum effect. It is practically impossible to tell one variety from other from the outside. If you can tolerate the effort, juice the first variety and use the juice to make shakes, custard or pudding. It has come to my notice that children often treat this variety like a bubblegum, interspered with playtime they chew on a cocoon until all flavor is lost. A tip for green minded folks – the remainder of the jackfruit fed to a holy cow makes them estatic and earns you some brownie points.

Young palm fruit seed is terribly seasonal, perhaps the peak lasts for a week or so. Fruit seller will crack the palm fruit with a machete and carefully take out the three seeds. At this point, the seeds are about 2 inches across and 1/4 inch thick with a thin, creamy colored skin. Take home, rinse and refrigerate. When ready to eat, peel the skin with a paring knife to reveal a translucent lichi colored soft interior. Why all this care you wonder? This soft flesh is a pocket containing coconut water like fluid inside. The flesh isn’t too sweet and is loved for the texture and coolness. As the fruit ages, the water dries up and the flesh becomes stiffer to form the mature seed. One of the popular varieties of Bengali sweet captures the ephemeral nature of this fruit by mimicry – the outside is made of cottage cheese and the pocket is filled with cane syrup.

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Written by Som

June 15, 2011 at 5:32 pm

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  1. […] While the desserts were last in the menu, let’s start with them first.  With a little more salt than you expect and a little less sugar than you want, the dessert at Pok-pok is what I imagine Thai desserts are like – wildly tropical flavors, and rich with coconut milk. One was a brioche bread stuffed with coconut sticky rice, topped with jackfruit ice cream and garnished with crunchy salted peanuts. The other was a durian custard served on top of sticky rice and drizzled with salted coconut cream. While I haven’t eaten durian outside of a restaurant yet, jackfruit has always been a seasonal favorite growing up in India. And these dollops of jackfruit ice cream on a winter afternoon in Portland reminded me of hot a summer day in Kolkata. […]


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