I caved in recently and bought a single dragonfruit from my local supermarket. I saw it at the entrance where there was a fruit display that sat separately from the rest of the fresh produce. It had been hastily decorated, enough that you could recognise that it was dedicated to ‘exotic’ fruit, even if the striking features of durian and Thai mangoes that graced the space didn’t already give it away. I picked it up, took note of the price and turned it over in my head a few times. Quickly, without giving my mind a second chance to deliberate, I stuffed it in my basket and moved on.
When I arrived home, I placed my shopping bag on the floor, bent down and rummaged through it. I was excited but careful to leave everything else inside, only wanting to tip my prize out. Removing the double plastic and holding it in my hand, it was a lot smaller than I remembered. I tried looking at it in an abstract manner, with its lurid purple colour that blended into a light green at the tips. This certainly was the most alien looking fruit the majority of people had ever seen.
Slicing it up was easy work. I cut it into half length-wise and dazzling purple flesh dotted with black seeds revealed itself to me. Cut each half into thirds, again length-wise, and you’ll find that the skin peels back easily as well. I dice them up into smaller pieces, placed them in a plastic container and put it back in the fridge. A couple of hours later I check back on it, stabbing a piece of the fruit with a fork then putting it in my mouth. It was sweet, chilled and delicious.
Cold sliced fruit in the fridge is something I strongly associate with home in Malaysia. It’s the most minor of minor details, like the spare button sewn on the inside of a new dress. In my home, it’s available almost around the clock. In my home, opening your fridge for the 3rd or 4th time for the day sometimes actually yields new results. Except it’s not quite Aladdin and genie levels of magic. The magic takes the form of love and thoughtfulness, that someone in our household has bought fruit for the whole family to enjoy.
Sometimes it’s papaya cut length-wise to resemble a bright orange sampan. Other times it’s a whole harum manis mango, a sight for salivation just thinking about its honeyed sweetness eaten over tea time. And if I was really lucky, the handles of a giant red plastic bag might be sticking out of the fruit and vegetable tray, holding within it mangosteens or rambutans, my grandmother’s harvest from that day’s wet market.
Many of my Asian diaspora friends are probably also familiar with the fruits-on-a-plate apology that was the proverbial olive branch from our parents after a heated argument. ‘Sorry’ might not be in their vocabulary but more than words, acts of service have always been how Asian families operated. And perhaps fruit, a sweet yet healthy, inexpensive and humble offering said more than any spoken language could convey.
I say this with intense privilege but I didn’t really learn to cut fruit for myself until after I moved out of home. Apples and pears are quite fine and straight forward, but there was clearly a skill I would only learn in time about removing the skin of fruit while preserving as much of the flesh as possible. In my first years living in Australia, I also adored the ‘foreign’ fruit like punnets of strawberries for $2.99 and peaches by the bag, just like what the western cartoons ate, the ones I watched growing up. Yet here I am over 10 years later, coming back to my buah-buahan ‘tempatan’ and paying over RM20 for a palm-sized dragonfruit because if you cut me open right now, you’ll find my heart in the exact shape of one.
Living in Japan today, I get to enjoy Japanese fruits which are world renown for the care put into their cultivation and intense sweetness, directly proportional to its hefty price point. I like that fruit is so revered that it plays a big role in the gift giving culture of Japan. But at the same time, they are put on a pedestal, wrapped in five layers of plastic and aren’t accessible for everyone. No longer a commodity but a luxury, the stress of buying fruit is not unlike the thought process one would put towards a fancy new jacket.
I could wax lyrical all day about how much I love the fruits of Malaysia. But at the end of the day, what I love most is the joy. The joy of standing next to an open fridge, devouring sweet flesh with juice dripping from chin to the kitchen floor.