Thursday, July 5, 2007
In North India, one only gets raw jackfruit. It's an interesting addition to one's repertoire of veggies and you can make a really delicious dry vegetable with it. I've also had a truly amazing biryani made from raw jackfruit - something my husband tells me tasted just like a meat biryani but was veg so I could relish it too. Also, jackfruit produces a range of amazing food items, from jackfruit chips - both plain slated and chilli variants - to jackfruit jam and jelly. All yum! However, ripe jackfruit is something you never get here, and it is such a loss.
We used to travel down to Bangalore and Mysore every summer when we were kids, to stay with my grandparents and my uncle's family, and one of the many highlights of the trip was that we got to enjoy jackfruit. Jackfruit grows on trees and is a big, green, irregularly shaped fruit with spikes on the outside. You would never imagine that such an exterior could yield something as soft and scrumptious as the fruit inside. It's sold in a pre-cut form on carts through out Bangalore and Mysore, and you can buy it by the segment (called tole in kannada). When you cut open jackfruit (an admittedly difficult and messy process), you will find lots of jackfruit segments inside. These are bright yellow (kind of like mango skin), rounded trapezoid 'boxes', about 2 inches ling and 1.5 inches wide. Each segment has a kidney-shaped seed inside it, about the size of a Brazil nut, and these taste great when boiled in a sambar (huli) or a kootu. The easiest, albeit messy, way to cut jackfruit is to coat the knife and your hands with oil, because jackfruit oozes a stickum when cut that can stain clothing and glue itself to your hands and knife, making it very difficult to cut further.
Every day we'd make sure we bought 25-30 segments of the jackfruit. It has a lovely aroma which is quite penetrating and the smell would fill the house as soon as we brought it in. There's a saying in Kannada 'hasta halasinahannu, undo maavu', which means one should eat jackfruit on an empty stomach and mango on a full one. So evening tiffin used to be jackfruit. They taste sweet and succulent and rich, and we could never get enough of them.
These days, if either of my parents happen to go south in the summer, they make sure to carry some jackfruit back for me. In fact, when I was expecting my son, I and my husband went down to Madras for a wedding and actually lugged back a 5 kilo jackfruit as hand baggage. My mother just got back from the south with a box of jackfruit segments, and the memories of all those golden summers came flooding back as I bit into the first, yielding, luscious mouthful...