Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Fruit for Thought

A funny phenomenon of a studying a foreign language is the "foreign native" word: that word that you only learn how to say in your native tongue after you learn the word in the new language and translate it. My favorite word like this is the word for one of the things I loved most about life in China: "pomelo". Or, as I first learned it, "youzi".

Oh, the lovely youzi. Tastes like a grapefruit that's in a good mood. Huge and yellow with almost an inch of thick, spongy peel, it takes a little muscle but it's well worth the work. I've been thinking of it as a cross between an orange and a grapefruit, and god's gift to a fruit-phobic vegans. I can't tell you how much I loved this fruit. On a couple hot Beijing nights it was my whole dinner. And I am NOT a person typically known to substitute fruit for an opportunity to ingest carbohydrates, things fried, or really, any other edible. But, ladies and gentleman, this is a fruit that can transform genetic code.

So, me and the youzi fell in love and had a passionate year-long affair, and then I moved home. And I was lonely. I missed it bad. But where to find pomelos on U.S. turf? I had never even heard of the delicious things before I ingested one in China. And noone I talked to knew what they were either. I walked through the aisles of Key Foods and Associated and even D'agostinos, and there were cactus fruits and yucca and the occasional starfruit, but no pomelos.

Then, on a happy day in Chinatown, I spotted some pomelos smiling at me from a fruit and veg stand. I bought two right away and brought them in to the Thai restaurant next door where I planned to share the wonder with friends over dessert.

What a bitter dissapointment. These pomelos were strangers to me - pink inside intead of white, with the overwhelming, mouth-drying sharpness of grapefruit and none of the familiar sweetness. I tossed them in the garbage.

After a couple more failed encounters, I determined that these imposter pomelos where coming to the U.S. from Israel. I accosted amused Chinese vendors about the color of the inside of their pomelos, I wasted dollars when I believed their sneaky sales lies, and, slowly, I lost hope in any reunion.

Then, two days ago, on Canal Street, just blocks away from where I work, lured by chestnuts selling at .50 a pound, I took a risk. The pomelo I purchased was a different shape than any I consumed in China - smaller, and a little pear-shaped, but this meant that it looked different than all its Israeli imitators, which I took as a good sign. And a good thing I did (and that Mark had 4 dollars to lend me after I bought a month's worth of chestnuts) because this pomelo was the real deal! I had a youzi fest at my kitchen table this morning, and I left for work a very happy, very satisfied woman.

And now I'm a more educated one. Here's a link to a photograph of a beautiful, healthy pomelo; apparently, a hollow pomelo center brings good luck and its leaves and skins can be boiled for a ceremonial bath that repels evil and ritually cleanses. As if it's taste weren't enough....

Also: shaddock.