Costa Rica’s tropical climate means that it’s always the season for ripe, sweet fruit. Fresh produce overflows from the markets and street carts of vendors, and I always return with a colorful bounty. Bananas, mango, papaya and pineapple are frequent purchases, but without trying very hard, I nearly always end up coming home from the market with a new find. Here are a handful of my favorites:
Thanks to the advice of a little old man, I was introduced to the annona, also known as a ‘custard apple’ or ‘sugar apple’. The outside has a scale-like pattern and is green, turning brown in various spots as it ripens. It is about the size of a softball. Inside, the fruit is creamy white with black seeds arranged around the core. The texture is slightly grainy like that of an apple, but it is much softer and somewhat slippery. In terms of taste, it holds true to its name; it was very much like eating a sweet, creamy apple. Perfect treat for desert!
Cheap, delicious, and readily available, that’s my kind of food! This bite size fruit has become one of my favorite snacks here. Jocotes come from a species of flowering plant in the cashew family, but I like to think of them as miniature mangoes. Their texture and taste is very similar, though slightly more acidic. Just like a mango, there’s a large seed in the middle. Because they have very little flesh, it’s easy to go through an entire bag in just a couple of days. They begin green in color and turn yellow and red as they ripen (just like a mango!). If you eat them while they are too green, they leave you with a cotton-mouth feeling. I like them best just as they are beginning to turn red and are neither too sweet nor too sour.
Bright pink. Covered in hair-like protrusions. Its rubbery skin peels back to reveal a translucent white sphere, slippery and gummy. Wait, am I describing something you can actually eat, or an alien egg? Meet the mamón chino, known in other parts of the world as the rambutan or hairy lychee. Native to southeast Asia, these fruits thrive in Costa Rica‘s tropical climate. They are a common sight in the markets and on the carts of street vendors. Mamón chino translates as Chinese sucker, a name earned because of their Asian origin and the manner in which they are often eaten. Their taste is very similar to that of a grape, sweet and slightly acidic. The texture is fairly similar as well, although more gummy and less crisp. After peeling off the skin, they are most easily eaten by popping the whole fruit in your mouth and sucking the flesh off from around the seed. I love mine with a splash of lime juice!
Plantains, or platanos, are a part of my daily diet that I already know will be sorely missed when I return to the U.S. They are perhaps some of the most versatile fruits. So what makes a plantain different from a banana? Plantains tend to be larger, firmer and have a lower sugar content than bananas. Bananas are generally eaten raw, whereas plantains are preferably cooked because of their high starch content.
When they are still green, they are very starchy and taste quite similarly to a potato. These platanos verdes can be used to make tostones (chips), patacones (fried patties), or they can be mashed or diced and seasoned as you please.
A yellow plantain with lots of brown spots is a ripe plantain, or a platano maduro, and is sweet, with a juicier texture than platanos verdes. They can be baked, fried or grilled, and complement savory dishes just as well as they can make a sweet dessert. I think they go wonderfully with black beans and a bit of something spicy. My host mom often serves them for dessert sprinkled with cinnamon, a great combination!