One of the pleasures of visiting a foreign country is trying the fruits of their labor—the literal fruits, that is. As the capital and core metropolis of Mexico, Mexico City is a destination for the country’s agricultural bounty. At bustling open air markets, you’ll find fruits rare in the United States that have yet to be turned into Whole Foods-bound commodities.
Whizzed into aguas frescas, chopped into to pieces by fruit carts on street corners, or eaten on the go in the city’s markets, the produce of Mexico City presents a kaleidoscope of flavors. While recipes like passionfruit curd from Christina Tosi prove that chefs have a genuine interest in expanding their range of flavor profiles, there is still a lot of untapped potential across the border. From a soft, collapsable fruit reminiscent of chocolate pudding, to another with flesh that tastes like sweet-potato pie, here is a glimpse into the beautiful, strange world of Mexico City’s fruit.
Eaten: Raw, seeds edible
Taste: Grapes, violets, and floral watermelon
It can be tough to distinguish the verbal difference between “pitaya” and “pitahaya,” though the fruits look quite different. Pitaya usually refers to the genus Stenocereus, a variety of cactus fruit sometimes called “pitaya agria” that look like mottled pink grenades with clusters of tiny spines. Their flesh is juicy and dark ruby, speckled with little black, edible seeds slightly more tart than the pitahaya, or what we know as dragon fruit. (Photo: Metro Flog)
To the befuddlement of most gringos, the tuna is not fish, but rather the fruit of the prickly pear cactus Opuntia. Barrel-shaped with a thick skin that ranges from green to dark maroon, the fruit’s flesh can be pink, orange, yellow, or the most commolyn, green—it’s often sold peeled and pre-sliced in plastic bags at markets for easy eating. The peel has little clusters of hair-like spines that can itch the skin. The flesh has the crunchy juiciness of watermelon, with very hard, pellet-like seeds (don’t worry, they’re edible). The flavor tastes, surprisingly, of pink bubblegum. Xoconostle is the sour version of this fruit, usually cooked down into marmalade, and is not eaten fresh. (Photo: Whisked Foodie)
Though it is in the markets and can grown in the more tropical regions of Mexico, the lulo fruit—sometimes called narajilla, or “little orange”—is native to South America. It is similar to a small green tomato or tomatillo, with shiny orange skin that splits open to reveal tiny, jelly-like green seeds. Because of its sour, rhubarb-esque flavor, it is often juiced with sugar and water to make aguas frescas. (Photo: Scarlett Lindeman)
The dominance of the Cavendish banana in the United States is so complete that a glimpse at one of the 400 other types of bananas is like discovering you have an extra appendage. The Cavendish and platano macho, what Americans know as plantains, are readily available in Mexico City markets. In addition to this, there are medium-sized platanos manzanos with pink, custardy flesh; platanos dominicos, clusters of little, thumb sized fruits; and platanos morados, which are slightly drier and sweeter. (Photo: Scarlett Lindeman)
From the Nahuatl “tzapotl,” zapote is a term for a whole cast of soft, edible fruits. Zapote negro is one of them: a baseball-sized, round fruit known as the “chocolate pudding fruit” for its meaty, black flesh that sweetens and softens before collapsing into itself as it ripens. It has shiny, bright green skin that wrinkles as it softens. Common in markets from August to January, the fruit’s jet-black flesh is sweet and nutty, with notes of stewed prune and chocolate. It can be sliced in half and eaten with a spoon, or the flesh can be cooked down with sugar and cinnamon for a rustic dessert. (Photo: Wikicommons)
Maracuja and Granada China
Granada China… Eaten: Raw, pulp and seeds used in sauces, desserts and ice creams. Taste: Similar to maracuja, but sweeter.
The edible portion of the maracuja, or passion fruit, is often sold in frozen form in the United States. The floral, sweet, and tangy flavor is characteristically tropical—a characteristic that most American-born fruits lack. The fruit is baseball-sized with purple, leathery skin. Once torn open, the internal cavity exposes a mass of slippery black seeds encased in yellow, wet pulp, and can be slurped from the center. Very similar in flavor, the orb-shaped granada china or “chinese pomegranate” has a hard, plastic-like shell that must be cracked open to access the grey-blue pulp inside—harboring crispy, oval, edible seeds, slightly sweeter than the maracuja.
Cherimoya and Guanabana
Guanabana… Eaten: Raw or pulp used in frozen desserts, aguas frescas. Taste: Similar to cherimoya, but slightly more tart.
The heart-shaped custard apple, or cherimoya, comes in a variety of appearances—most often covered with green, tuberculated skin. Sliced in half, it has an intoxicating floral scent with creamy white flesh shot through with shiny, black pebble-like seeds. The fruits can ripen, like avocados, on the counter, and are ready when slightly soft to the touch. They can also be par-frozen, the flesh scooped out like ice cream that tastes like a mix of banana, pineapple, and peach. The related guanabana is larger, with darker green flesh and prominent thorns. The interior is white, with many large seeds and pockets of soft, sweet, creamy flesh, often turned into aguas frescas, ice creams, and paleta popsicles. (Photo: Live In Costa Rica)
Mamey and Sapodilla
Sapodilla… Eaten: Raw, or cooked into desserts, blended into drinks, smoothies. Taste: Honey, pear, maple flavors.
A dusky brown sheath covers this large, oblong fruit called mamey. The skin is so firm that squeezing won’t tell you if it’s ripe. At the market, vendors cut a wedge from each fruit so buyers can inspect its internal, salmon-colored flesh, fitting the wedge back into the incision when it is purchased. The flesh is firm and starchy, and tastes just like sweet-potato pie with one large pit at the center. The pit is also a comestible, often used in the Oaxacan beverage tejate. Mamey flesh is often pureed with cream and sugar and frozen into coral-colored paletas. Somewhat more rare, though similar, is the related sapodilla or “mamey zapote” or “zapote chico,” with a dusky brown skin and golden, juicer flesh that has a flavor of pear mixed with brown sugar and custard. (Photo: Strange Wonderful Things)
About the size of a large kumquat with yellow-greenish skin that ripens to orange and red, this variety of plum tastes nothing like plum. The skin is thick and taut with a large seed at its center, which encompasses most of its volume. The best way to eat it is to pop it in your mouth, hold it in your cheek like a hamster, and shred off the skin and flesh with your molars. It tastes like peach and mango and is only in season August through December. (Photo: Scarlett Lindeman)