Custard Apple or Noi Naa
The annona suamosa, also known as the sweetsop, sugar, or custard apple is also sometimes referred to as the ‘aristocrat of fruits’. In Thailand the fruit is called noi naa. The Royal Thai Army has nicknamed its hand grenade noi naa, because of the strong resemblance in size, colour and texture to this green, bumpy skinned fruit.
The stubby pear-shaped fruit hails from the tropical regions of the two Americas and is thought to have originated in the Caribbean Islands. After the Spanish discovery of the New World in the 15th century, cultivation of the custard apple spread, first to the Philippines and then along the trade routes to Southeast Asia. The Thai’s eat fresh custard apples raw, and often incorporate them into an ice cream. They also consume a dessert called noi naa ka ti, whose chief ingredients are the custard apple and coconut milk.
A ripe custard apple can be found in Thailand from June through September. When fully ripened a noi naa will give slightly when squeezed and if you notice a soft spot, or if the skin has turned purple or black it should be avoided. A custard apple bruises easily and has a shelf life of around three days at room temperature but can be kept for up to a week when refrigerated. A firm or unripe custard apple will ripen in a day or two.
Anyone with a sweet tooth is bound to love this fruit because it’s hands down, the sweetest fruit I’ve ever tasted. A custard apple can easily be twisted into two halves by hand or cut with a knife. Once halved, simply scoop out the soft, cream colored flesh with a spoon. A sugar apple is sweet, slippery and juicy. It has a grainy texture similar to that of a pear. Some say the noi naa tastes like custard, but to me it just tastes sweet… very sweet. By the way, the scaly skin or the hard black seeds are both inedible.
Due to this fruit’s high fructose content, it has a few more calories than other tropical fruits. Conversely, it provides ample protein and dietary fibre. Plus the noi naa is rich in anti-oxidants, vitamin A and C, and contains a number of the B complex vitamins. They’re also loaded with thiamine, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, copper, and iron. In fact, one sugar apple provides 110% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C.
Noi naas are known to be beneficial to those with poor eyesight, high blood pressure and heart disease. They’re also a natural cure for constipation. Certain cultures claim leaves from a custard apple tree, when rubbed on any surface will repel lice, and the fruit’s seeds when dried, ground and applied to the hair, are a deterrent to body lice. However, because the crushed seeds are highly irritable, the powder must never come in contact with the eyes.
Beef Massaman Curry or Gaaeng Matsaman Neua
The first meal I ever ordered in a Thai restaurant wasn’t Thai per se, it was Muslim in origin. My eyes were drawn to a dish that incorporated some edible matter familiar to me … beef, potatoes and peanuts. An unusual combination, but ever since my introduction to massaman curry, which is the Anglicized name for matsaman, which in Thai means “Muslim”, has remained my absolute favourite Thai dish.
All nostalgia aside, if a European beef stew collided with a Muslim curry imported from Malaysia that had been deconstructed and then rebuilt to suit the Thai palate, the results would be a beef or chicken massaman curry. Because gaaeng matsaman neua incorporates a number of Middle Eastern spices, it has a different flavour than the more common green, yellow and red Thai style curries. The thick, stew-like dish is generally prepared in Thailand using beef (neua) or chicken (gai).
Whether made with sliced beef or cubed chicken, the mildly spicy and slightly sweet massaman curry is rich with the flavour of exotic roasted spices, and is absolutely delicious. When eaten with steamed jasmine rice, the combination of gravy-like curry, meat and potatoes makes it a hearty and fulfilling meal.
The unique flavouring of Massaman curry is derived from exotic spices that were brought from Malaysia to the southern regions of Siam centuries ago by Arab traders. Recipes for massaman curry paste differ from cook to cook. However, the paste is generally comprised of: cumin, star anise, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, cardomon pods, peppercorn, palm sugar, red chilies, shallots, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, cilantro seeds, fish sauce, and shrimp paste. Massaman curry paste also happens to be the only Thai curry paste whose spices are roasted prior to being ground into a paste.
The ingredients for the curry include the paste, sliced beef (or chicken), cinnamon sticks, cardomon pods, star anise, tamarind paste, palm sugar, shallots or onions, coconut milk, fish sauce, potatoes, red bell peppers, coconut or peanut oil, roasted peanuts, and fresh Thai basil leaves.
Gaaeng matsaman neua is not commonly sold in the small street-side restaurants, as it’s not a dish that can be prepared quickly. Thai food vendors who sell pre-cooked dishes are the best bet for locating massaman curry. They’re the vendors who set up at the outdoor markets and along the sidewalks with large pots or tubs of different foods for sale. Check the pots as you pass by. On the street this curry will run 30 to 40 baht, plus another 10 for rice. Gaaeng Matsaman can also be found in a number of sit down restaurants, but be prepared to pay anywhere from 200 to 300 plus baht!