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Botanists pretty much agree that the purple Mangosteen originated on either the Sunda or Moluccas Islands, and the fruit was first domesticated in Thailand and Burma. Now it is cultivated all across Southeast Asia, and has emigrated with varying degrees of success to Africa, South America, and the West Indies.

The sweet and sour white flesh of the Mangosteen is mostly soft and juicy, yet certain portions remain decidedly crunchy and firm. The fruit’s texture, combined with the perfect blend of sugars and acids are what makes the Mangosteen such a delight to eat. In fact, the fruit is so delicious, rumor has it Queen Victoria allegedly offered a reward of 100 pounds Sterling to anyone who could deliver fresh Mangosteens to her court. Perhaps that is why the Mangosteen has been nicknamed ‘The Queen of Fruits’.

The purple, thick-skinned Mangosteen is divided into four to eight sections called ‘arils’, sort of like the sections of an orange. Each aril segment houses a single seed, and the bigger the section, the bigger the seed. Large seeds should be spat out, but the smaller ones can be eaten whole. The fruit is topped with a prominent greenish cap or ‘calyx’, and the bottom is finished with a brown raised ridge, shaped like a rosette. The number of petals on this ridge correspond with the number of arils inside the fruit.

A ripe Mangosteen will be firm to the touch, and have a nice green cap. It will also have a glossy purple skin with no cracks. The Mangosteens with the most arils are thought to be best. That’s because the segments are smaller, and the small sections generally don’t contain a seed. The Mangosteen can be stored at room temperature for up to a week, because the thick rind (4 to 6 mm) prevents the flesh inside from drying out. To further the Mangosteen’s ‘shelf life’ place them inside the refrigerator, in a partially closed, but not sealed, plastic bag.

When freshly harvested, the fruit can be opened by squeezing until the rind splits. After harvesting however, the skin begins to lose its moisture and hardens. To open a Mangosteen with a tougher skin, cut through the rind midway between the top and bottom. Then gently twist until the top lifts off. You can then carefully scoop out the sections. Be aware that the segments are very slippery, and the purple juice from the rind of a freshly picked Mangosteen will stain both your skin and clothing.

Most folk eat the Mangosteen raw as a snack or dessert, and it can be made into an excellent juice, sorbet or ice cream. The seeds are sometimes eaten when roasted or boiled, and the rind can be made into a purple jelly. The Mangosteen is also found canned in the supermarket. Mangosteens are high in antitoxins, and contain small portions of vitamins C and E. They also contains six of the nine B complex vitamins.

Red Pork & Rice or Kao Moo Dang

Have you ever been wandering around the sois of Pattaya and seen hunks of bright red meat hanging inside the glass display cases of some of the street food vendors? Well, that’s one of the two namesakes that combine to make up the Thai dish known as Kao Moo Dang. The other namesake is kao, or white steamed rice. And oh yeah, the red meat is moo dang, or red pork.

One of the things I like most about Kao Moo Dang is that it is not a stir-fry. Don’t get me wrong. I really like Thai stir-fries, but sometimes, especially when it’s really hot outside, something that is cooked, but not really cooked is just the ticket. “Wait a minute”, you say, “That doesn’t make any sense.” I know it doesn’t, but don’t forget this is Thailand.

First, let me explain. Red Pork and Rice is a dish made up of previously cooked items. No, they’re not leftovers, the ingredients have all been prepared in advance, and are assembled when it is ordered. It’s kind of like a salad without produce. Think of a European al fresco style meal, or an American style picnic lunch that’s served on a bed of rice.

Briefly, Kao Moo Dang is comprised of white steamed rice, a few chunks of Thai ‘roasted’ pork, which is similar to a Western style ‘crispy pork crackling’, some thinly sliced Thai sausage, and the star of the dish, red pork (usually a lean cut of pork loin or pork steak). A marinade made from a blend of tomatoes, minus their skins and seeds, preserved plums, honey, fish sauce, pork stock, and a drop or two of red food coloring is what gives the pork its vivid red color, and a unique zesty flavor.

The rice and three pork meats are topped with a couple spoonfuls of a Thai style barbeque sauce composed of dark, sweet soy sauce, honey, vinegar, and corn starch. The sauce reminds me a little of a sweetened mixture of Western tomato and barbeque sauces. The dish is traditionally served with fresh cucumber slices, a few green onions, and half of a hardboiled egg. With the exception of the rice, all of the components are served at room temperature or cold. This makes the dish very refreshing, and a little less heavy than the usual Thai stir-fries. For those of you who can’t handle anything spicy, Red Pork and Rice, with its sweet and tangy flavor shouldn’t be a problem.

Sometimes you have to look a little harder to find a street stall that serves Kao Moo Dang. You’ll see plenty of the red pork hanging in street side restaurants, but many of these will be noodle shops that feature red pork in their noodle dishes. Variations in both the taste and ingredients are common among the vendors that offer this delicious, non-stir-fry favorite.

The street price for Red Pork and Rice is generally between 30 and 40 baht, and I’ve yet to see it offered in any fancy sit down restaurants.

by Brian S.