Where to buy the mysterious mangosteen
A few years ago, while traveling in Thailand, I discovered the world's greatest living fruit--the mangosteen. It was the only thing delicious enough to make me forget the infernal heat and the hordes of dorky American men parading around with their local, decades-younger "girlfriends."
Upon returning stateside, I learned that I'd never seen a mangosteen because they were banned from import into the US for fear of pests. That all changed a few months ago, when the USDA allowed irradiated mangosteens into the country--and recently they started showing up locally.
I first saw them being sold in $20 bags (about 8 fruits) by produce vendors at the International Marketplace in St. Paul, but was hesitant to spring for a bunch if I was uncertain of their quality. When I learned they were being sold individually at Cub Foods stores, I raced out and bought one.
The racquetball-size fruit have a tough, purple shell, and slicing one open (use a serrated knife--the shell is quite leathery) reveals a cluster of whitish segments that look something like those of a clementine, with small seeds inside. And the taste? It's tough to describe: it's sweet, tart, and a little creamy, like the juciest peach you've ever had that's been crossed with a lychee and a loquat.
After plunking down $2.49 (!), I brought the mangosteen home and cut it open to find this:
They yellowish slime and fear of unknown tropical diseases couldn't prevent me from sampling a few of the sections. (If there's no Dish column next week, you'll know what wasn't a good decision...) It tasted as good as I remembered, though I can't say the two bites were necessarily worth the price. The next day, I went back to Cub, showed a produce employee the photo, and he urged me to try another one. Another $2.49 later, I cut the second one open to find it in worse shape--the yellowish slime contaminated every segment and a couple were soft and brown.
I called the produce department and the man I talked to admitted he wasn't very familiar with the mangosteens, since they were so new, and wasn't sure if the slime was okay. When I said maybe I'd just come and get another one, he told me they were all sold out right now--customers cleaned out 20+ of them since I was in on Friday? "Yeah, everybody thinks they're the latest 'live forever' thing," he remarked.
**Update: I was hesitant to buy at the Asian markets because I only saw mangosteen sold by the bag, and not individually. But after my experience at Cub, I paid $14.50 for a bag of 9 fruits at Shuang Hur on Nicollet, and found the fruit to be in perfect condition and quite delicious.
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