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Fruit in Asian meals


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A while back I dined at the home of a Korean friend. At the end of the meal, a single, beautiful, white peach was sliced into thin sections and shared among seven guests. The small pieces of fruit were eaten very slowly, savored with accompanying gestures and sounds of yumminess, and a great deal of commentary on the qualities of the fruit - texture, sweetness, etc. - followed from the Koreans in the group. I have since had two similar experiences, both with Japanese hosts.

Since that time I've been thinking about how fruit appears in Asian meals. I have also been, perhaps, more interested than is polite in the shopping habits of people in my local Asian markets where I buy most of my produce. I often have picked out all my fruit for the week while others are still selecting that perfect, single specimen.

So my question is whether the single piece of fruit phenomenon is a special occasion happening, or if it is commonplace. Is fruit rare? Expensive? Highly valued as a food item? Is it a gesture of generosity and time spent meeting the needs of the guest? Is the sharing important or is it the symbolism of the particular fruit? Is fruit also eaten in quantity as a snack food? And do attitudes differ between different countries? None of the above? OK, that's actually more than one question, but you get the idea. :smile: I'd appreciate any insight.

Thanks

-L

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Fruit is always served at the end of the main meal (supper). Serve whatever is in prime season. Fruit at the end of a Chinese family meal (also in restaurants) may consist of a platter of orange, melon , pear, apple, etc. cut in wedges to be passed around. The routine is to eat them out of hand.

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So my question is whether the single piece of fruit phenomenon is a special occasion happening, or if it is commonplace. Is fruit rare? Expensive? Highly valued as a food item? Is it a gesture of generosity and time spent meeting the needs of the guest? Is the sharing important or is it the symbolism of the particular fruit? Is fruit also eaten in quantity as a snack food? And do attitudes differ between different countries? None of the above? OK, that's actually more than one question, but you get the idea. smile.gif I'd appreciate any insight.

The single piece of fruit phenomenon. This is an example of the communal aspects of Korean eating (found in many, many other cultures). If there is one piece of fruit it can serve one person or even split amongst 7 people. Koreans also buy cases of fruit and put out big platters of fruit after meals too. When I was living in Seoul and in now in Los Angeles, I have noticed more affluent or even not so affluent Koreans are willing to spend quite a bit of money on expensive fruits and vegetables. I remember $5-$8 pears in Seoul. They were very large and delicious, but wow expensive. I don't know of too many other cultures where people buy expensive fruit that is individually wrapped by the crateful.

A while back I dined at the home of a Korean friend. At the end of the meal, a single, beautiful, white peach was sliced into thin sections and shared among seven guests. The small pieces of fruit were eaten very slowly, savored with accompanying gestures and sounds of yumminess, and a great deal of commentary on the qualities of the fruit - texture, sweetness, etc. - followed from the Koreans in the group. 

I have had the same experiences as you describe, again and again. Comments on the qualities of the fruit, texture, etc.. Sometimes even comparisons to the last time they had the same fruit, "ah, it is really the height of the season now! the last peach was a little sour and not quite ready."

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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None of the above, really. I don't think we -- Chinese, anyway -- treat fruit any differently than Westerners.

One thing to note is that fruit is rarely used in Chinese cooking, e.g. we do not put citrus on fish (a practice that I despise), no fruit sauces, etc.

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I have had the same experiences as you describe, again and again. Comments on the qualities of the fruit, texture, etc.. Sometimes even comparisons to the last time they had the same fruit, "ah, it is really the height of the season now! the last peach was a little sour and not quite ready."

That's it exactly! It reminded me of how people enjoy and discuss wines. Ever since the first experience I've tried to appreciate fruit a little more.

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Let's not generalize to all of Asia.

Fruit may also be part of the meal rather than a finisher -- in Isaan (Thailand), somtam ponlamai, a mostly fruit-some veggy version of the green papaya salad. And green papaya salad itself.

In Malaysia and Indonesia, rojak buah -- fruits, some veg like cucumber, with a sauce and peanuts sprinkled on top. And fruit sambals, which are taken with rice and curries/gulai etc. Esp known on SW coast of Sumatra but found elsewhere in Indo, and Mlaysia, as well.

Avocadoes which are, after all, a fruit, as a blended drink in Indonesia (a snack, really) - with chocolate.

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I have had the same experiences as you describe, again and again. Comments on the qualities of the fruit, texture, etc.. Sometimes even comparisons to the last time they had the same fruit, "ah, it is really the height of the season now! the last peach was a little sour and not quite ready."

That's it exactly! It reminded me of how people enjoy and discuss wines. Ever since the first experience I've tried to appreciate fruit a little more.

That's a good metaphor, wine. You're right, the complete flavor profiles of fruits is much appreciated. I remember watching my wife and her mother eating these big Korean grapes, almost the size of small plums. They would peel the skin from each one and anticipate the flavor based on the physical characteristics. "This one is a little soft, this one looks really sweet and the texture is going to be good, here you have it."

Did you also notice with some of your Korean friends that there is great pride in the whole process of peeling and cutting fruit into neat pieces? It's almost like a ritual.

Obviously not ALL Koreans, but I do think it is a feature of the food culture.

By the way, I have permission to post this stuff from my wife. She can be really mean when people say weird things about Koreans and generalize about Asia. :biggrin:

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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I have had the same experiences as you describe, again and again. Comments on the qualities of the fruit, texture, etc.. Sometimes even comparisons to the last time they had the same fruit, "ah, it is really the height of the season now! the last peach was a little sour and not quite ready."

That's it exactly! It reminded me of how people enjoy and discuss wines. Ever since the first experience I've tried to appreciate fruit a little more.

Yes, we do that, too! This is what my Chinese family often does and some friends do the same, too. Never saw it that way before, just seems like a natural thing to do. Now that I'm thinking about it, we seem to have the biggest discussions when we have mangoes.

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Let's not generalize to all of Asia.

I meant no offense in the title of the thread and I apologize if I have caused any - sometimes the space limits make for titles that gloss the nuances. Because I saw similar practices in two different cultural settings, I wasn't even sure exactly where to place the thread.

Did you also notice with some of your Korean friends that there is great pride in the whole process of peeling and cutting fruit into neat pieces? It's almost like a ritual.

Obviously not ALL Koreans, but I do think it is a feature of the food culture.

By the way, I have permission to post this stuff from my wife. She can be really mean when people say weird things about Koreans and generalize about Asia.  :biggrin:

I did notice the cutting ritual! And I don't think it's weird at all, I think it's wonderful that people show such appreciation for their food :smile: .

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I don't think you were generalizing or saying anything weird. First you asked specific questions, for example:

And do attitudes differ between different countries?

:smile:

If you are interested in other cultures, it's natural to ask questions after seeing something that seems so different from what you are used to.

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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Not to deviate but ...

If you have not tried a Korean pear, I would recommend that you give it a try. I think we are heading into that season. The korean pear is unlike other western pears. They are round, brown, very crisp and juicy. I buy mine in a box and they cost be about $25 bucks. You get 12 or so individually wrapped pears. They are amazing.

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I have not tried a Korean pear. Last year I bought pears from China - "Ya" was the variety listed on the box. The paper wrapping and cushioned sleeve were the clincher for me. If something is packaged so carefully, it MUST be wonderful. And they were. They had incredible flowery fragrance, great flavor, and were softly crisp. I'll keep an eye out for the Korean pears at the Super H.

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Since no one has yet addressed the place of fruit in Japan and Japanese culture, let me jump in and say that from my experience, the Japanese treat fruit much the way Koreans do. Fruit is often expensive in Japan, and each piece will be chosen with care. Fruits are typically cut up (or sectioned) and shared, even a single mandarin orange. After a formal dinner once, I was served three grapes -- not a handful or a bunch, as Americans would serve. They were kyoho grapes, extremely large, juicy grapes prized in Japan for their perfumy flavor and definitely worthy of comment!

In Japan and China, certain fruits also have symbolic meanings, for instance, mandarin oranges with a stem and leaf are given as New Year's gifts for good fortune.

SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

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When my family and I used to visit Korea we would visit during the summertime, which is peak season for peaches, nectarines and various grapes.

From my experience, I've noticed most Koreans peel their fruit and cut it into manageable sizes, so my relatives looked at me funny when I ate my nectarines, out of hand, skins and all. Another one of them missed seeing me score a nectarine around the pit with a knife and twisting it into two pieces. She thought I had just twisted it with my bare hands, and the confused look on her face was classic when she tried to do it herself.

Believe me, I tied my shoes once, and it was an overrated experience - King Jaffe Joffer, ruler of Zamunda

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thats one of the great things about growing up part Korean is that you tend to eat way more fruit than your american friends. My mother never made pies, cakes, or cookies for dessert but instead served us cut up fruits.

I didn't notice that Koreans and Japanese peel and cut their fruit all the time, but now that I think about it....I still think its amazing to watch my mother peel an apple or a korean pear perfectly without wasting any flesh. Me, I just peel the korean pear with a vegetable peeler and get juice all over me. Also, I hate those Korean grapes with the seeds and the skin. They taste so good....but its so labor intensive.

Anyone buy a $30 watermelon in korea lately?

BEARS, BEETS, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
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Went to the Grand Mart today and found boxes labeled "Asian Pears" and others labeled "Korean Pears." Both types were very large (about 10 cm across), round like apples, with brown skins. The "Korean" pears had lighter brown skins with fewer lenticels on them, and they were $5.00 more for the box. Unfortunately, they didn't have the Korean pears loose like they did the Asian ones. I wanted to do a taste test, but I couldn't bring myself to buy two crates of pears! Does anyone have insight into the difference?

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Sheena, my friends regularly buy thos $30 watermelons here in Korea. Yes, I reside here but am not korean. Been living here for 3 years now and in the countryside famed for it's peaches and pears (janghowon). 've been fortunate to be given pears and peaches all the time by my husband boss and my korean friends. A single pear can feed a family of four (they're humungous!).

Like what the others said in here, korean hospitality always include sliced fruit for their guest when they visit. I really like this except when I am offered a bunch of concord grapes. I always tell them those grapes are usually made into wine, juice or jam, too sour to eat.

Doddie aka Domestic Goddess

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Like what the others said in here, korean hospitality always include sliced fruit for their guest when they visit. I really like this except when I am offered a bunch of concord grapes. I always tell them those grapes are usually made into wine, juice or jam, too sour to eat.

You should try them, they're not sour, especially if they're a bit more mature grapes. They're usually quite sweet. If you get an underripe concord they'll be sour.

Believe me, I tied my shoes once, and it was an overrated experience - King Jaffe Joffer, ruler of Zamunda

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In the Philippines, some people (including myself) eat their mango with rice. This is done while eating any dish, like for instance a vegetable stir-fry. The mango is just scooped out and mixed with rice, and eaten with the viand!

Other than that, fruit is usually served sliced after the meal.

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Also, I hate those Korean grapes with the seeds and the skin.  They taste so good....but its so labor intensive. 

Yeah, I'm not a big fan of the grapes. They have all that nasty flavor I associate with purple bubble gum and none of the sweetness that I like in green grapes. The skins are too thick, and there are around five seeds to each grape, it seems.

Unfortunately, I live in Anyang. Anyang's mascot is Podongi, a smiling grape. Ironically, the mascot's name sounds too much like "ondongi," the Korean word for "butt." They grow a lot of 'em nearby. And we're hitting grape season soon. Eun Jeong's going to be eating them a lot, and I'll be seeing grape skins on all the plates. And she's going to make me eat them too because she has to share everything she eats with me -- especially foods I told her I don't like.

Edited by ZenKimchi (log)

<a href='http://www.zenkimchi.com/FoodJournal' target='_blank'>ZenKimchi Korean Food Journal</a> - The longest running Korean food blog

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