Or: the Trials and Tribulations of an Uptown Girl with a Boyfriend from Old Europe

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Location: Basel, Switzerland

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Have and have not

Since I've spent a few posts complaining about the things that Switzerland doesn't have, it only seems fair to devote a post to something that can be found here, but not in the US: the mangosteen.

The mangosteen is a small, round, purple fruit from Southeast Asia known as the "Queen of Fruits." I first read about them a long time ago, but an impression of their fabled flavor - not to mention their elusiveness - has stayed with me ever since. Legend has it that Queen Victoria offered a reward to anyone who could send them to her. Today, in the United States at least, they're still nearly impossible to find: because their flesh may harbor Asian fruit flies, the US doesn't allow fresh ones to be imported. So I'd never managed to sample the ambrosial fruit.

Apparently Switzerland has no such qualms, perhaps because customs officials know the fruit flies will never manage to fill out the appropriate visa applications in triplicate. Still, they're by no means common here. I haven't seen any at the Asian markets, though admittedly I haven't been looking. But while I was browsing through Globus today, I happened upon a handful of what looked like baby eggplants, nestled among other brilliant clusters of exotic fruits.

In case your wallet's never been ambushed by Globus, consider yourself fortunate: it's the Swiss version of Barney's, with one major improvement. Like most European department stores, it has a food shop in its basement, and appropriately enough, the one at Globus is like Dean and Deluca, only about a thousand times better. It carries a staggeringly glorious assortment of proscuittos, fresh pasta, prepared salads, wines, cheeses... In short, if you're searching for something rare, extraordinary, and/or expensive, it's the best place in the city to go.

Needless to say, it's a very dangerous place for me to venture, so usually I stay away. But since I was in the neighborhood on Friday morning, I drifted in, resolved to "just look." Then I saw the Malaysian mangosteens peeking out at me, and I knew I had to get a couple to try.

With a great deal of willpower, I made it out of Globus without further damage to my bank account, and coddled my little treasures all the way home. It took even more willpower not to succumb to curiosity and taste one right away. But I decided to make an Asian themed dinner, and to serve the fruit afterward for dessert.

As it turns out, my careful handling was unnecessary: mangosteens have a thick protective layer that start to harden after picking. Though the ones I got were still relatively soft (as is ideal), there was more than enough padding to cushion the fruit inside. Indeed, getting at the edible bit required a bit of careful sawing: once around the equator with a serrated bread knife, a little twist, and at last the shell fell open to reveal a perfectly white globe segmented - somewhat like an orange - into seven slippery sections. It was gone in less than thirty seconds.

The texture and flavor was reminiscent of a mango, though much brighter and far less sweet. (Is that how it got its name?) It had a lovely floral aroma that lingered on the tongue long after the tiny bits of fruit were gone. Without a question, it was delicious. But I suspect the biggest reason it's legendary is its relative rarity, and how much effort it takes to get at a tiny bit of fruit!

Given how much Globus charges, I won't be stocking my fruit bowl with them. But now I can cross off one more item off my personal "things to do before I die" list, and dream of having a mangosteen tree in my back yard.



Blogger swissmiss said...

Mangosteen must be the real name for what I call asian eggplant; I learned something today. And I love the Globus food store. NEVER shop there the day before Christmas or New Year's though, the lines are unbelievable. I like to splurge there now and then on cheeses and olive paste and antipasta. Yum.

March 19, 2007 at 11:07 AM  
Anonymous jessica said...

Hmm, i might go hunt for these. i don't even go to Globus. Yikes. You are brave. I laughed at your description there.

March 19, 2007 at 4:24 PM  
Blogger Un-Swiss Miss said...

Swissmiss: I think Asian eggplants are just that - eggplants. (I've seen Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Thai, etc varieties out there.) Mangosteens may look like eggplants, but they have tougher skins and are sweet.

Jessica: Just think of something else when you go to the cashier! But they're worth a try.

March 19, 2007 at 5:52 PM  
Blogger nuffster said...

Hmm, I no longer pity you your lack of cheddar cheese. I miss you, Charlotte!!

March 29, 2007 at 3:34 AM  

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