Malay Apples

In the last few years of living in New York City I tried consciously to eat more seasonally which was all well and good in the summer months but as the seasons progressed into the colder months the selection would inevitably thin to root vegetables and apples. I ate a lot of apples. But then I did love going down to the farmers market at Union square and filling up my backpack with them.

Here now in the tropics there are no heirloom apples to be found - just the bright red or green homogenous supermarket varieties - Granny Smiths and Red Delicious from Australia and New Zealand. Their perfectly shiny uniformity lack the attraction I found in the odd shaped Braeburns and Cox Pippins with their more complex tangy flavors and hard crunch.

I miss them but I also I don't primarily because there is so much other fruit here and I might add, incredible fruit at that.  Can't complain when there are four or five different kinds of Mangoes, Bananas and Pineapples available in its place, pretty much year round.

There is however a kind of substitute in Malay apples or Water Apples or Java apples. Not actually an apple or related to apples but in the Syzygium, Myrtle family (which includes Cloves):  Syzygium malaccense and Syzygium samarangense or Syzygium javanicum. Never quite sure which is which, they come either green pink or red in either a longish shape like the one pictured above or shorter and plumper and sometimes more fluted.

There is a crunch when you first bite into them but the sensation quickly shifts into a spongier texture so it doesn't really do what the much denser apple does. There is much variation in flavor in every batch from bland watery to sweet and tart but always with a faint rose scent. Better to get them from a regular reliable source, and there's a local fruit farm grows them organically and often has them for sale at the night market in Pelangi.

Growing up, our neighbour had a tree growing in their yard and we often were climbing  it to score a few fruit to take home and eat as the locals do here with a sauce of dark soy and sugar. It remains a good way to flesh out its flavor profile. In New York I did something similar mixing soy sauce, lime juice and Peanut butter as a dressing for apples in a salad.

I'm not tempted to grow the tree myself as I've seen many a sad looking tree full of fruit - too much perhaps with much of it ending up rotting on the ground. At Desaru fruit farm- how they grow it organically is to barrier protect by wrapping each individual fruit with a physical barrier, that's too much work. I'll stick with buying them at the market, which also means I get to cycle through the slightly different varieties.

They don't do well in the fridge, better eaten up quickly before they bruise and soften but on a hot day a couple of refrigerated ones are just the thing to snack on for a little cool respite. Here's where their lack of density actually works in their favor as you can do this a few times a day.


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