Postcard from Hawaii: Tropical fruit at Banana Joe's
I recently spent a week in Hawaii researching a story on agri-tourism for this Sunday's Travel section. As usual, I learned way more than would fit in a single article, so I'm converting the best bits into items for Daily Dish and Travel's Deals & News blog.
For a mainlander, the most amazing thing about Hawaii is the tropical fruit. There are some things we might see occasionally at farmers markets, such as passion fruit, but for the most part it's a whole new world of eating. Hello, jaboticaba.
The good news is that there seem to be fruit stands all over the islands. Folks will have a tree or two in their backyard and they'll set up a table by the side of the road and sell what they've grown.
A standout example of this, and a Kauai landmark, is Banana Joe's. It's just outside the little town of Kilauea (site of an awesome park). I was driving down the road and all of a sudden spotted a giant banner reading "Rambutan Sale."
What? Are they crazy? I practically lived on rambutans and longans during my week in Hawaii. If you've never had them, they have roughly similar flavors but very different appearances. The rambutan looks like a rubber toy from the "Star Wars" bar. The longan looks like a quail egg. You tear them open and pop out the centers, which are pale, translucent, very juicy jells with a slightly sweet, extremely floral character. Think of them as juiced-up lychees.
They also had perfectly ripe apple bananas, which have a flavor that shouts what supermarket bananas only whisper.
But the real treasure at Banana Joe's that day (and, ahem, the next ... I drove 20 miles back to buy more), was the mangosteen. Oh, my sweet lord, the mangosteen. It looks a little like a tiny Indian eggplant, with a dark purple, extremely bitter husk. But the center is the most exquisitely tender tropical fruit you can imagine. It's got a bit more of a sour edge than a rambutan or a longan, and it's got a long, complex, lingering aftertaste. Along with a perfectly ripe peach or tomato, the mangosteen is quite possibly the greatest fruit I have ever tasted.
Banana Joe's also sells fruit-based smoothies and shakes, but come on, really? When there are mangosteens?
5-2719 Kuhio Highway, Kilauea, Hawaii, (808) 828-1092, www.bananajoekauai.com.
-- Russ Parsons
Upper photos: Banana Joe's. Credit: Kathy Parsons / For The Times
Middle photo: Rambutans. Credit: Kathy Parsons / For The Times
Lower photo: Mangosteens. Credit: Kathy Parsons / For The Times