Mumbai's 13 weirdest fruits

By Shaheen Peerbhai

As you walk through the street markets of Mumbai, you’re bound to stumble upon some unfamiliar fruits, with vendors trudging their carts along in search of willing buyers.

You'll want to look in Crawford Market, Dadar (West) station market, Parle (East) station market and Santacruz (West) station market. Another sure way to find them would be in the vicinity of schools after the closing bell, where kids flock to get their sour fruit fix.

1. Karonda (karvanda): India's answer to cranberries. These pinkish-white fruits with a few tiny seeds in the center have a sourish taste. The flesh is firm with a crisp bite when the fruit is raw. It is also filled with a sticky white fluid which stains like nobody’s business.

Biting into a Karonda, you will experience a strange, dry astringent-like feeling in the mouth. Although it definitely tastes weird, it’s really fun to eat with a little sea salt sprinkled on. The raw berries are commonly used for pickling. When ripe they turn purple and soft with a tart, juicy interior.

Here's a tip: Don't bite into the seed -- that’s what gives it that weird taste. Oh, and I haven’t tried but I hear that they are fantastic for making wine.

Cost: Rs 60/kg

2. Star fruit: Also known as Carambola, this fruit has a waxy skin and a green to golden yellow color. As the fruit ripens, the color becomes distinctly yellow, while the ribs turn slightly brown.

All you have to do is slice them crosswise, and you have a terrific looking star-shaped piece of fruit that makes for an excellent garnish.

With a flavor that ranges from tart to mildly sweet, star fruits are best eaten when sliced and sprinkled with a mixture of salt and chili powder, just like the way it is served on the street carts near Juhu beach. They also lend themselves beautifully to a tropical fruit jam paired with pineapple or pomegranate.

Cost: Rs 5-10 per fruit (depending on size)

3. Wood apple (kabit, kavat, bel fruit): As the name suggests, wood apples have a woody exterior that you need to break open with a pestle or hammer. Inside, you will find a sticky, fibrous pulp, speckled with hundreds of edible seeds. Its taste ranges from very tart to sweet-and-sour when fully ripe.

Commonly eaten with a little jaggery to temper the acidity, but if you’re not up for eating the fruit as is, you could make a jam, chutney or sherbet from the pulp.

To make a quick drink, blend the pulp with some jaggery and water or coconut milk. Strain it, mix it, and drink up.

Cost: Rs 10/fruit

4. Indian gooseberry (avla, amla) The Indian gooseberry is known more for its Ayurvedic properties than for anything else. With benefits ranging from diabetes to anti-ageing, the Indian gooseberry wins hands down as an elixir in the form of a fruit.

It has a shiny greenish-yellow skin and is the size of a lemon, with a crisp bite, and a central seed.

The Indian gooseberry is used extensively in pickles, chutneys and jams that alleviate its sourness.

Cost: Rs 40/kg

5. Purple jamun (jambuls, jambun or java plums): I'm sure every child who grew up in the subcontinent has a fond jamun story to tell.

The purple jamuns are seasonal fruits that appear in late April and are around till the monsoons. Jamuns have a blackish-purple skin, but can be whitish on the inside with a purple seed, or deep purple all together.

Word of caution: They stain too!

When they’ve just begun entering the market they’re usually quite tart, but as they mature, they still have the characteristic zing but are much sweeter. They’ve got an astringent aftertaste that will keep reminding you of the fruit's flavor, which means you will end up eating a lot more of these than you intended!

The best way to enjoy jamuns is to pound them gently until slightly mushy, and eat with a pinch of rock salt. Some general stores also stock dried jamun chips that make for an interesting, healthy snack.

Cost: Rs 80/kg

6. Water Chestnut (singhada, songoda)

Fresh: The fresh water chestnut isn't a fruit, but a knobby vegetable with a soft, spongy stem that grows in the marshes. It has a firm green skin that is easy to snap off with the meekest of hands. The inside is white, tender, and has a watery yet crunchy core. When dried, singhadas are ground to a flour (kuttu ka atta) to make bread.

Boiled: Boiled water chestnuts have a chalky taste, while the texture can vary from tender to very firm. When it is boiled with a pinch of hirakasi, a type of vegetable dye, it attains a dark black rind. This is done mostly for cosmetic value without affecting the water chestnut’s taste, because plain boiled water chestnuts attain an unappetizing, moldy brown color. The boiled variety is more extensively available than the fresh variety.

Cost: Rs 60-80/kg

7. Tamarind (imli): A brittle exterior held together by fibrous strands, the pulp is sticky and dark brown in color when ripe, while the seeds are shiny black.

Tamarind is usually exploited for its sour flavor that is enhanced with spices and jaggery, and used in street chaat.

The name tamarind, in fact, means "Indian date." Its claim to Western fame can be found in bottles of HP Sauce and Worcestershire sauce.

It is popularly used in chutneys and sauces that make an excellent accompaniment with seafood.

Cost: Rs 120/kg

8. Ber (Indian Jujube): The ber has a firm, shiny skin, and a color that ranges from golden yellow to earthy brown. The fruit is mostly sweet, with a hint of sourness and a sharp crunch to it. It has a pointed stone-like central seed.  It is cultivated throughout the country, and is so easily available it has come to be known as the poor man’s fruit.

Cost: Rs 40/kg

9. Chanya Manya bor (jhar-beri): From the same family as the ber, these berries are available fresh as well as dried. They are large pea-sized, brick red berries that are typically sold in small cones by the street-side vendor.

The dried variety can be eaten as is, or can be refreshed by soaking in water for a few minutes. Of late, the cottage industry is making these popular in the form of concentrates that can be diluted with water for a refreshing drink.

Cost: Rs 40/kg

10. Jackfruit (fanas): The jackfruit is a huge, prickly, oval fruit that has an inedible exterior and a soft, sweet, fibrous interior.

It is a sweetish fruit that has a distinct, pungent odor.

It has shiny yellow bulbs that can easily be separated from one another, making it easy for consumption. Each bulb has a central seed that acquires a delicious nutty flavor when dry roasted. When raw, the jackfruit is used in cooking. Cutting and preparing the jackfruit can be quite a task, given how sticky they are, thus it is best to buy them freshly cut from the vendor.

Cost: Rs 50/kg

11. Pink Guava (peru, amrood):  Flavor-wise, it's just like the regular white guava, but it's much prettier! The vendors will almost always cut them up in a zig-zag fashion across the center to entice customers. The fruit has a firm, dark green skin that lightens and softens as it ripens. The skin is thin and edible, while the interior is pulpy and dotted with tiny edible seeds.

Yummy when cut up and sprinkled with a little rock salt and chili powder. Pink guavas are harder to find than their white counterpart, with Crawford Market being your best bet.

Cost: Rs 10/fruit

12. Chikoo (sapota/sapodilla): Chikoos are easily among the ugliest of tropical fruits, but also among the most highly underrated, possibly because they are so widely available.

Every other street in the city will have a vendor selling the chikoos at very affordable prices. Eating chikoos is an experience that will always be full of surprises -- will the fruit be buttery smooth, or will it be gritty and pear-like? Will it be intensely sweet or will it be bland and boring?

Perfectly ripe chikoos are very fragrant and will yield to a gentle squeeze. If you’re lucky you will experience a creamy, rich, almost toffee-like taste. They are also delicious when blended into a milkshake with some vanilla ice cream and honey.

Cost: Rs 25/kg

13. Targola (tadgola, toddy palm, palmyra): The targola is a type of palm fruit that grows in clusters, and has a coconutty, brown exterior. On cutting open, each fruit had three to four jelly seeds that have a soft yellowish skin that darkens to a light brown when exposed to air. This can be quite a pain to remove, but the effort is well worth it.

If you are averse to spending that time peeling the seed, you can safely eat it with the skin which, although bitter, is known to have medicinal properties.

The soft seeds have a texture similar to lychees, and biting into a targola, you will be hit by a refreshing sweet juice that resides in the center of each seed.

Cost: Rs 40/dozen