Tag Archives: mangosteens

Cornucopia (Dinner Friday)

5 Jun

View into fruit store in alleyway, Hanoi, with bananas, eggs, litchis in foreground.

The fruit stall on our alleyway, in Hanoi, Vietnam

This is the fruit stall in the alleyway next to our guesthouse, in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Friday evening. It’s just an ordinary store. Nothing fancy. No posher than the laundry, the menders, the barbers, the old lady who wheels her cart of lurid plastic sandals here every morning and home every night, or the five separate cottage industries selling street-fried spring rolls side by side in the cross-alley.

Yet these ladies don’t just sell the obvious — melons, watermelons, bananas, apples, oranges, limes, fresh mango, eggs. They’ve got rambutans, litchis so fresh they still have their leaves on, passion fruit the size of your fist (one dollar a kilo), those succulent sour plums you dip in salt and chilli, custard apples, great cannonballs of pomelos, bigger than a man’s head.

Oh, and mangosteens. The succulent, tough-shelled, very perishable fruit known as the Queen of Fruit. In the nineteenth century, Queen Victoria offered a reward to anyone who could manage to bring her a ripe mangosteen to try. Continue reading

Summer in Hanoi

28 May

Trees and reflecting pool in the Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam

Reflecting pool: the Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi turns one thousand years old this year, and the city’s just on the cusp of summer. The point where the heat begins to turn from velvety to steamy, the rainstorms open up, the Red River starts to rise and turn burnt orange with silt, and the fields which still surround this turbo-charged city turn as green as the cottage gardens which flourish on islands in the stream.

Hanoi is a city of lakes. Hoan Kiem, at the heart of the old quarter, where balloons hang over the medieval pagoda, and an embalmed tortoise in a scarlet temple commemorates the sacred turtle — an incongruous fourth partner to the more obviously sacred trio of dragon, unicorn and phoenix that were emblems of old Tongking — which rose to give King Le Thai To his personal Excalibur long ago.

There’s Ho Tay, or West Lake, the gargantuan freshwater expanse around whose borders young couples promenade and pet on scooters, as steadily hooting taxis forge their way through, where drinker sup the cheap draft beer, bia hoi, at kindergarten tables, and the high-rise condos of the Western expats sit sealed behind their grandiose gates. Continue reading