From the other side of the world, it’s also a culinary journey. There are tastes, colors and smells that we don’t forget. Still little known in France, the pitaya or “dragon fruit” is part of the tropicalcuriosities that we discover landing in Saigon. The Vietnamese call it “thanh long”. In reality, it’s a matter of the fruit of a cactus that grows in arid areas. Native to Mexico, it’s the French settlers who imported it to Vietnam.
Its appearance is intriguing: the envelope is often candy pink (sometimes yellow depending on the variety), and it hides in its heart, a sweet flesh dotted with tiny black seeds. Fresh, it’s very refreshing and often compared to kiwi, less in acidity. Dragon fruit is ubiquitous in Vietnam. Impossible to miss in the mounds of fruits lined up along the roads and bought for only a few cents. The major explanation is that supply now widely exceeds demand. For five years, South East Asian countries (Japan, China) and the United States, were open to the import of this amazing fruit. As a result, the areas of crop leaped, especially in the southern provinces of Binh Thuan, Long An and Tien Giang. Yet it remains difficult to export fruit. I made the bitter realization in cramming them into my suitcase. They arrived in poor condition, damaged and oozing with juice.
Dragon fruit is extremely fragile. The other problem that slows its exports are health checks.Export becomes a real challenge because the goods must comply with international standards for the collection and packaging, as well as strict rules of cleanliness. But the Vietnamese are still lagging behind and some farmers are headstrong to these international standards. To get into the U.S. for example, the fruit is (almost) subject to inspection clinics, and suffer plant checks from X-rays.
If dragon fruit remains a source of pride for the Vietnamese, you’ll understand, it’s better to taste it in Vietnam…