Q: What kind of fruits do you like?
Chua Lam: Any fruit that is sweet.
Q: Why is that? You don’t like sour fruits?
CL: My impression. Fruits ought to be sweet. As simple as that.
Q: Of all the sweet fruits out there, which is your favourite?
CL: Ah! That’s just like asking me about women. Favourite? Best? Most? That’s really difficult to answer.
Q: Just give an example of a fruit that you like. First thing that comes to mind.
Q: Is it because you grew up in Southeast Asia.
CL: Definitely part of the reason.
Q: Any type of fruit that you don’t eat?
CL: When I was young, there was once my family drove to Malaysia for a holiday. We passed a pineapple plantation. The workers were busy harvesting pineapples and piled the fruits into huge mounds by the roadside. We saw some people helping themselves to the pineapples. The workers didn’t bother, so we got out of the car and helped ourselves to some of the pineapples too. As we had no knife, we smashed the fruits on the road till they broke up and ate the flesh within. I ate so much that my mouth, lips and tongue were cut by the sharp fibres. From then on, I developed a phobia for pineapples. The moment anyone mentions pineapples, I’ll start sweating.
Q: You’re really sweating! OK, let’s talk about fruits you like to eat. Every year, you bring groups to Japan for a peach-tasting trip. Is it really that good?
CL: Someone once told me that you don’t need to eat the best peaches in the world. You just need to poke a straw through the flesh and the you can suck all its juice out. A man from Shandong once boasted to me that they had such peaches back in his hometown. I went to the peach plantation with him. He plucked a peach and started massaging it until the pulp was crushed. He then handed me the crushed fruit and asked me to suck on it. I didn’t dare. Hiss hand were too dirty. But as for the peaches in Japan, they make no such claim, but are really tasty.
Q: What about papayas?
CL: I only like Hawaiian papayas. There’s a fragrance in it. Others types of papayas are not worth my chewing effort. I juice them and drink.
Q: What about lychees?
CL: I’ve organised a tour group to Zengcheng. Their reputed lychees seem to have mutated. Not as sweet as the other varieties. Those we plucked from the trees have been heated up by the sun and don’t taste good. Better to buy some at home, cool them in the fridge. They taste better that way. Longans are the same. Refrigerated longans taste better than those plucked from the trees.
Q: What about grapes?
CL: Haha… of course, I wouldn’t eat sour grapes. The sweetest grape is Australia’s sultanas. Fresh ones are of course good, but raisins and sultanas are also excellent. There is a type of black American grapes with a number 4038 on it. That’s the sweetest.
CL: There is a kind of Taiwanese mango. It’s small, the skin is green and it looks ugly. That’s the best. I would normally buy a basket of it, line the floor with newspapers, place a pail of water with a towel by the side. This sort of mangoes is very addictive. The more you eat, the better it tastes. After I’ve finished, I’d wash my hands in the pail and use the towel to dry my sweat. Even my sweat has turned yellow.
CL: I don’t quite like them. I hate sour fruits. There’s once I went to Japan in winter and had some.
Q: Strawberries are summer fruits.
CL: The Japanese felt that there are too many fruits in summer and too few in winter. So they grew some strawberries in a greenhouse and harvest the fruits in winter. I didn’t believe they were sweet. Turned out to be OK. Still, I was paranoid and dipped them in condensed milk before tasting.
Q: Melons grown in a greenhouse have to be sweet.
CL: You’re wrong. There are some which are not sweet enough. So if you buy melons in Japan, you’ll have to choose those which from single fruit trees. When the trees start to sprout melon fruits. All the buds are cut away leaving only one. That single fruit has all the tree’s nutrients to itself. It’s sure to be tasty. You’ll even see a layer of “nectar” on the flesh.
Q: Water melons?
CL: It’s a gift for the summer. But it only tastes good if chilled. Even the ancients knew how to chill water melons in wells overnight before eating them. Squarish and pyramidal water melons may look interesting, but these are just gimmicks. Don’t bother to try them.
CL: I don’t trust them. That’s why I seldom try. Sometimes, I would come across “coarse sugar oranges”. They’re small and ugly, but edible.
CL: Has to be ripe through. Soft and juicy. That’s the best. I don’t mind dried persimmons if their sweet.
Q: Anything exotic?
CL: In Southeast Asia, there is kind of fruit called the cempedak. It looks like a small jackfruit. The texture of the flesh is as soft as durians. You can almost suck it up. I’ve not tasted this fruit for many years. The last time I had it was on a trip to Penang. Sweet and fragrant. Even the seeds are edible after cooking. Taste even better than chestnuts. One of my favourites.
© Chan Joon Yee