Tag Archives: exotic

Quirky Asian Fruits

It’s Foodie Tuesday!

Lovely lychees. Image from ifood.tv

The rich agricultural soils in Asia have really borne much fruit. And I thought I’d talk about a few of the more quirky ones in this post. By “quirky” I mean not just that they are a little strange, but that the cultures that grow them use them in ways that are unusual, ways that you might be interested to try.

After all, a lot of these fruits are, with a little luck, easily found in Asian food stores that pepper a lot of cities, and sometimes one doesn’t even have to go to a specialty food store to get it.


Lychees are lovely fruits. They have a beautiful blush-colored skin that peel off to reveal juicy translucent flesh. They have pits, which I think are particularly gorgeous — rich red-brown and very, very glossy — I swear, they look like they should be on earrings or something.

Image from HotelClub Travel Blog

It would be awesome to find them fresh, but they are more easily found peeled, pitted and canned, in wonderfully heady syrup.

These fruits find their way in simple, fresh desserts that are very popular in Chinese cuisine, the most well-loved of which probably is almond jelly.

Another recipe you might also enjoy is this exotic fruit salad recipe from Steamy Kitchen.


Though this fruit was first cultivated in Central and South America, it eventually found its way to and put down roots in Asia, Australia, and Africa — and from there to dining tables in the rest of the world.

Avocados are strange fruits because they are so unlike other fruits. Where others are cool and juicy, avocados are creamy and custard-y. Where others are fragrant, sweet and/or tart, avocados have a totally mild and mellow flavor that is most unusual.

Avocados are usually used as savory salad component and guacamole ingredient in North and Central America, but it some parts of the world, they make wonderfully rich desserts. In Africa and Asia, they are eaten with sugar and milk, and are used in ice creams and milkshakes.


Usually weighing more than a kilogram each, the pomelo is the largest of the citrus fruits, and is grown almost exclusively in Southeast Asia. It may look like an overly large grapefruit, but has none of the bitter taste — it is sweet with a slight tartness, and packs a punch in terms of aroma.

A pomelo and a grapefruit

I have sat down to many a pomelo eating sessions, wherein each person is in charge of taking the rind off his or her own fruit, pulling it into segments and peeling off the slightly thick membrane to get to the pulp within. Sprinkle in some rock salt and then… bliss.

Southeast Asian cuisines tend to love a certain blend of a lot of S’s — sweet, salty, sour, and spicy, and pomelo is great at providing that sweet component. A prime example of this is the Thai shrimp and pomelo salad, which has this complex balance of chili, lime, fish sauce, and sugar in the dressing.


Oh I have previously waxed about this “king of fruits”, quite extensively too, and you can read it here.  And though many find it foul-smellingly repulsive, countless others have acquired a taste for it and find it delightful, and can’t get enough of it.

Indeed, the durian is not only enjoyed fresh from its prickly shell in its musky, creamy glory, but it is also well-loved as an ice cream flavor, and as an ingredient in smoothies, candies, and even creme brulee.


The guava is another fruit with a strong odor, but one that is generally found to be pleasantly sweet and heady. Some varieties are crunchy like pears, while some have a softer give, like that of a melon. It has a high concentration of Vitamin C, and many a health drink manufacturer has since bottled and sold it in juice form.

In the Philippines, the tart varieties of guava are used in sinigang, a traditional sour soup.

Guavas are also high in pectin, which allows it to make beautiful jellies. Try it with peanut butter for a more exotic P B and J sandwich.

Posted in Culture, Food | Tagged , ,

Asian Condiment Low-down: Nothing Fishy

It’s Foodie Tuesday!

Fish Sauce. Photo by Nathalie Mariano.This pretty, amber-colored liquid is known by many names: in the Philippines, where I live, it is called patis; in Thailand, it’s called nam pla; in Vietnam, nuoc nam. Fish sauce is one of those mainstays in every East and Southeast Asian kitchen’s arsenal of seasonings, no matter what country you are in. It is used to flavor a whole lot of Asian recipes, often taking the place of salt.

Fish sauce is made by fermenting fish and salt and pressing the juices out. There’s an art to this, one which the Vietnamese and the Thai take very, very seriously. Some families have their own recipes which have subtle differences in flavor and aroma, based on the kind of fish used, the kind of wood used in the barrel where they are fermented, the length of fermentation time, as well as some other environmental factors. In the Philippines there’s generally only one kind of patis, but in these other two countries, fish sauces are classified into different grades of quality, and these grades are placed prominently on the labels.

Now to those of you who might wrinkle your nose at the idea of defiling your own kitchen with this funky flavoring, so let me just say that:

  1. It is not meant to be consumed as it is. I would not personally eat chilies as just chilies. But that doesn’t mean that I would ban them from the food I make. In fact I would add them to a lot of dishes to add some zing to them. Same goes for fish sauce. It marries into the flavors of a dish and creates a comparatively subtle layer of exotic salty-umami.
  2. It does have an intense taste and aroma, but the dishes that call for it don’t use a lot of it. A little goes a long way.


Try using patis as a component of this wonderful salty, sweet, sour, spicy dipping sauce and dressing. I use this to make Vietnamese Goi Ga, a cabbage and chicken salad. I also use it to dress cold noodle salads, or as a dip for spring rolls, grilled fish and meats. I don’t have a recipe, but you may begin by mixing together 1 part fish sauce, 1 part brown sugar, and 1 part lime juice. Then adjust the ingredients to achieve your desired balance of salty, sour, and sweet. Then add chopped chilies to achieve your desired heat. I also like to add a drizzle of sesame oil for some smoky nuttiness.

The ingredients for Vietnamese Dressing. Photo by Nathalie Mariano.

The sauce ingredients (clockwise from top): fish sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, chilies, calamondin or calamansi and dayap, the local lime. Regular limes are not easily available where I am, so I use a combination of dayap (which has beautiful aroma but not a lot of juice) and calamansi (for the sourness and the juice).

Goi Ga Ingredients. Photo by Nathalie MarianoA beautiful application for this dressing is the Vietnamese Chicken and Cabbage Salad, Goi Ga.

Chinese cabbage, shredded
Steamed chicken breast, shredded
Mint leaves and/or cilantro, torn

You may also add:
Chopped peanuts
Bean sprouts
Julienned carrots

Toss the ingredients together in the dressing. Pile on a plate and enjoy.

All images in this post by Nathalie Mariano.

Posted in Culture, Food | Tagged , , ,

No Burying Your Head in the Sand: The Ostrich’s Gifts

For the record, according to National Geographic, ostriches don’t bury their head in the sand; it only looks that way. They bring their heads close to the ground when they sense danger, to make themselves look small—not easy to do, given that they’re the largest birds on earth.


image by Carsten Peter for National Geographic

Ostriches are such beautiful and elegant creatures and they remind me so much of models. They’ve got long necks, long legs, huge eyes framed by really long lashes, and pouty beaks. They’ve got bouncy, flamboyant feathers, and their runway walk—fierce!

These beautiful fowls, native to Africa and the Middle East, are now grown in farms all over the world for their feathers, skin, meat (their red meat is the healthy, cholesterol-free alternative to beef), and eggs. Ostriches therefore not only serve as design inspiration, but also as material and medium for myriad products to which they lend their fabulous style.

The flamboyantly feathered ostrich

image from cagayanon.org

Wide eyes and pouty ostrich beak

from an ostrich farm near where I live.


Ostrich leather has a distinctive dotty texture which is mighty fascinating on belts, shoes and bags. Designers agree!

Belt of dotty ostrich leather

Men's Dress Ostrich Belt by Wolfbrand.ca

Ostrich leather shoe

The Louis Vuitton Beauty Pump in ostrich leather image from rawshoes.wordpress.com

Pretty blue ostrich leather bag

Blue Jean Ostrich Roma Satchel Bag by Victor Hugo

Hermes birkin made with ostrich leather

Aaah, the inimitable Hermes Birkin—in saffron-colored ostrich leather.


Feast your eyes on the fluffy wonder of these fine-feathered ostrich accessories.

Bag made with ostrich feathers

An ostrich feather accessory that can be worn on the arm, around the neck, head, or ankle

by LIAISON original. SWANKY LUXE 4 Way Convertible Ostrich Feather Accessory (head, neck, wrist, ankle).

Ostrich fashion accessory

from stylepalace.com

Ostrich earringsEggs

Ostrich eggs have shells 1/8 of an inch thick, and have a ceramic-like quality. They are cream-colored and translucent, hard and tough. Artists have long been drawn to these eggs, and have carved them, painted them, or made them into lamps.

Carved egg lamp

from webshots.com user maxquad1959

Ostrich egg lamp

Hand carved ostrich egg by joechas

Ostrich egg itemsOstrich lamps

Ostrich eggs

from cape-sun.com

Painted ostrich eggs on display

Photo by sygryd fuentes.Colorful rows of painted ostrich eggs in South Africa.

Going, Going, Gong

Chinese gongWind or Feng Gong

Good vibrations. Sweet sensations. It seems a lot to expect of home décor, but ancient Asian peoples have looked to gongs to bring just that.

Gongs were the first musical instruments. Although they were used in Asia for the functions of European bells—to announce, to warn, to call to prayer—their uses went far beyond being the popular mass communication medium in the pre-radio ages. Gongs were said to be endowed with powerful, other-worldly, mystical properties. Their good vibrations would resonate in the atmosphere and surrounding bodies, spreading the good vibes, quieting the mind, effecting relaxation, healing, and even enlightenment.

Gongs were also considered good luck, even to just touch them, and countless families in Burma, China, Annam, Java, and the surrounding territories were proud to have these objects in their homes.

People still want gongs in their homes, and not just in Asia. Nowadays, gongs are as coveted for their aesthetic appeal as for their powers, and have become just as much for skeptics as for mystics. Their beauty, symmetry, and history make enough good vibrations to bring satisfaction and sweet sensations.

Fine detail in a Thai gong

Feng Gong

Some gongs are shaped flat like discs (above) and make crashing cymbal-like sounds, while some are nippled or bossed (below) and make rounder sounds with less “shimmer”.


Some gongs are hung, as in the case of this nippled gong.


These gongs from Southern Philippines are laid flat on the floor or placed on wooden mounts.

Drummer Steve Hubback makes his own instruments and creates these magnificent gongs and other sound sculptures

Another Steve Hubback creation

some gong music:

Steve Hubback

Kulintang, Philippines

Gong and singing bowl, Tibet

Posted in Culture, Design, Travel | Tagged , , , , ,

Origami: the Art and Design of Paper

Folded paper cranes

Folding 1000 paper cranes and stringing them as pictured is said to grant you one wish from the mystical animal in Japanese folklore. Photo credit edwinasharp.blogspot.com

I remember being about 5 – maybe 6 – and having my dad sit me down to teach me to fold the paper crane. It was a right of passage. I remember struggling with it, specifically step 3-4 (now I absent-mindedly create them out of paper detritus from my pockets while idly riding the streetcar). This is where my life-long interest and admiration in origami art began — I am endlessly enchanted by the seeming magic a square of paper can hold. As a craftsperson, however, I have remained ever the dilettante.

Pretty origami crane

This was not the same kind of crane I folded. Design by modern day Origami Master Roman Diaz, folded using one sheet of paper. Yes it can stand on one foot by itself. Photo Credit Sea-wayblog.blogspot.com

Origami, the art of Japanese paper folding has been practiced since the mid-Edo period (scholars believe it began sometime during the 17th century) and continues to entrance today. In fact this popular Japanese folk art that transforms a square sheet of paper into something representational through folds alone – no cuts or glue allowed for the die-hards – has today gained quite the devout following internationally and is of special interest to scientists and mathematicians. Origami, with its own mythology, with other designers paying respects through their own art, is now the subject of a documentary.

Folded paper elephant

Origami Grandmaster Akira Yoshizawa, created more than 50,000 origami models in his lifetime (the elephant above is one, folded from a single square). Credited with creating new folding techniques, and having published 18 books, Emperor Hirohito granted him the Order of the Rising Sun in 1983 for inspiring a renaissance in the art form. Photo Credit: Orizuka.free.fr

Folded paper dragon

This dragon, by Satoshi Kamiya is one of the world’s most complicated origami designs. Each scale is its own piece of paper, intricately folded into the body itself. Photo credit blog.mckenkie.com

Paper Yoda

60 fold Master Yoda designed by Fumiaki Kawahat. Photo credit: listsoplenty.com

Access the step-by-step here

Between the Folds is a recent documentary that follows 10 fine artists and theoretical scientists who abandon those careers to devote themselves to the art of origami. Reinterpreting their worlds in paper, they bring forth a bold mix of sensibilities towards art, expressiveness, creativity and meaning. Check out the trailer (and good news! PBS will be airing it January 2011 on Independent Lens):

Origami has entered into the western consciousness forever altering the way we see a sheet of paper.