I saw my first pineapple bloom under a shade behind a temple in Chiang Dao. Along with its fruiting spiny brothers, it was firmly attached to a thick shoot, stretching upwards three feet from the ground. Having discovered its alluring and unexpected origins sparked an infatuation with finding and photographing the unique, often unknown moments in the life of tropical fruits.
Countless jackfruits swelling in the yards, high above the ground, the weight of two watermelons each were next. Underneath their spiky olive-green bark, once peeled, there’s a cluster of baby-fist-sized bright-yellow bulbs that surround the chestnut-like seeds. The bulbs’ fleshy, fragrant, and sweet texture tastes like a chewy, utmost flavourful banana with a strong hint of bubblegum. A novelty for most western tourists, they are sometimes confused with the infamous durian, a fruit with a smell strong enough to be banned in most vehicles and hotels.
Though I’ve looked, I wasn’t lucky enough to discover durian grow outside a plantation.
Nevertheless, my fascination and the opportunity to see tropical fruits grow in the yards, on the streets, and at the parks throughout my years as an ex-pat in Thailand has produced a modest collection of images.
That photo, above, of the red berries growing on a bush with thick, dark-green leaves has been taken at a small coffee plantation near the peak of Doi Suthep mountain. Their pits, which apparently aren’t even beans, are washed, sun-dried, and roasted year-round to feed the countless espresso machines in Thailand and around the world.
The tiny bananas sprouting out of a large hanging flower under the massive green leaves in the midst of a damp jungle are likely of a burro variety. Unlike the slender, long, and mild-tasting cavendish type, most commonly found in the western grocery stores, burros are stout, have thicker skin and are a bit rougher in appearance. They are also much sweeter and have a satisfyingly dense and creamy texture, fantastic with yoghurt, and more than decent when fried with sesame seeds.
The pomegranate bulb, dripping down from its wiry branch, demanded a photograph, though the first time I’ve seen one was in Beijing years ago, in a much colder climate.
Mangoes, of course, could only afford their massive trees to grow in the warm, moist tropical climate. In Thailand, I discovered at least two different varieties of that fruit and the fact that it’s delicious even when green.
Dragonfruit looks incredible. It is also a cactus. Though it tastes seedy and bland.
Finally, there’s papaya. Most often served as a dessert, it’s also a part of many savoury dishes, notably Som Tam, a spicy green papaya salad. The tree that bears the fruit looks like a twig, no thicker than a forearm with sparse weeds sticking out at the top. Miraculously, it can produce dozens of stretched-out melons each season.
In my photographs, I’ve looked for images that resembled the allure of the moments commonly unseen or ignored. As the fruits are transactionally consumed while wrapped up in plastic, marked sale, sweet, or healthy.
Undoubtedly, this collection is incomplete.