Thailand—as the rest of Southeast Asia—is awesomely rich in fruits. Their variety is wide and their quality exceptional. Yet, even the fruit-loving traveler would find himself at lost while staring at some of them for the first time. If seeing a durian for the first time while in a Thai supermarket, few will figure out that this spiky fruit must be open with a machete-like knife, while wearing thick gloves. The stench following this action will be even harder to predict. Time and again I triumphed over these difficulties with the help of guesthouse workers in remote areas. Unlike their guild-brothers in Bangkok, they have all the time in the world to explain these important issues to the traveler while practicing their English.
One of these odd fruits is the lakam. In its season, cartloads of it can be seen in Bangkok. Yet, these smallish, oval and very spiky fruits manage to scare more than lure. In one of my escapes out of town, I headed to the southeastern beaches, reaching a little known resort town. The owner of my favorite guesthouse—a lawyer from Bangkok than decided to run a guesthouse near a sunny beach—was sitting next to the establishment door with a bunch of lakam fruits on her lap.
"This is ‘lakam,’ I don’t know its name in English," she said after noticing I was studying the fruits with interest.
"How do you eat it?" I asked.
She showed me how to open it without getting the fingers hurt and then handed me the dark-yellow flesh. "Be careful with the seed," she added. The warning was in place, the flesh barely covered a large stone-like seed. The fruit had a peculiar bittersweet flavor which obviously justified its popularity in Bangkok. However, serendipity doesn’t have preferences in its directions.
While traveling in northern Thailand, in my way back to one of the kingdom’s most beautiful places, I spotted in a convenience store placed in the middle of nowhere, a jar filled with pickled loquat fruits. These small, yellow fruits have large seeds and a tangy flesh with a flavor in between a mango and a peach; they are one of my favorite fruits. Originally from Southern China, nowadays they are grown even in my country. Yet, despite my enjoying most of the Thai cuisine—even unripe fruits spiced up with sugar and chili—pickled fruits are not for me. I cannot imagine a more vicious action towards an otherwise perfect mango. Unluckily, loquats are delicate fruits; they bruise easily. Seldom are they available in markets, except as pickles. Shunning the revolting sight, I bought a few mangos, and spent the rest of the way nibbling on them while enjoying the views. After a couple of hours, I arrived at my destination. Two Burmese pagodas next to a smallish pond were almost buried under a lush mountain. Next to them was my usual guesthouse in that town.
From afar I spotted the owner sitting next to the entrance. She was eating something while looking in the direction of the pond. Thus, I appeared to her as an act of magic. One moment she was alone—during the monsoons season few travelers venture into the area—and the next, there I was, greedily staring at a pile of fresh loquat fruits.
"Hi," she said, recognizing me, "Do you want some fruits?" she added offering me the bowl and pointing at an adjacent chair.