I ate dragon fruit, also called pitaya, for the first time back in 2005 on a trip to Thailand. We spent a few days in the northern Thai city, Chiang Mai. There we stayed at this cute guest house near the downtown named Tamarind Village. The guesthouse was sort of like a small village, with a central square with lots of charming buildings scattered around this manicured, very green lawn. There was a huge tamarind tree right in the middle of the complex. Perhaps that’s how they came up with the name? Very creative! Breakfast was exciting there. It was included with the room price, but what made it interesting were all of the unusual things to choose from. There were the standard Western style foods like omelets, cereal and coffee. The thrilling stuff were the Thai specialties. And isn’t adventurously eating local foods while traveling abroad one of the best parts of any trip? There were these weird neon orange and purple sausages that really alarmed us. That was before we became pescetarian, but still I skipped them.
The Thai eat savory foods at breakfast time, so they had various kinds of noodle dishes with generous amounts of pepper and fish sauce. There were lots of rice dishes, too. We had terrible jet lag when we first arrived. Morning felt like nighttime, so the savory things were perfect. Food is culture and skipping that part of a country’s heritage, to me is just silly because you are missing out! Don’t be afraid like Jim Carey was in the movie, “Yes Man.” You’ll be surprised with all of the exciting new discoveries that you can make. Just say “yes” as much as you can when faced with unknown foods. Well that was not a problem for us. The breakfast was served poolside. Among all of these choices, Tamarind Village offered numerous kinds of very fresh fruits. That’s where I spotted pitaya for the first time.
The dragon fruit has a beautiful shape: it’s elliptical, almost like an American football. The outer skin is pink with little green leafy crests. The skin is smooth. It sort of has the texture of human skin; maybe that’s a little freakish… Just other day I was talking about peeling mangosteens. To undress a dragon fruit you simply cut the top and bottom parts off, then cut a long slit through the skin lengthwise and peel it off. The inner fruit is white with zillions of little seeds that look like black sesames. I heard that the fruit can also be pink or magenta, though I’ve yet to see those kinds. It has a sweet smell. The texture is creamy with a pleasant crunchiness provided by the myriad of black seeds within the flesh. As for the flavor, I would say it tastes a bit like mild green grapes, maybe with a little lychee flavor in there too. Pitaya is from the cactus family and, surprisingly, it’s from the New World! I wonder if it traveled with the chile pepper to Southeast Asia on one of those Spanish galleons years ago?
We ate our fruit after dinner one night. In Thailand it was served at breakfast and as a snack. We bought ours at 22 and Irving Market in the Sunset. To be honest I haven’t seen them very much anywhere else. If you happen across one of these mild fruit with the fearsome name, you should definitely give it a try.