Mutant lemon or rare delicacy?
It was only a matter of time until the Capers Community Market up the street from my home turned into the extravagant Whole Foods store I’d visited in Toronto a few years ago – crazily expensive and exotic produce available at times of the year totally out of season to most parts of the world, and especially Canada.
Coming around a display in the store this afternoon, I saw what looked like thick yellow fingers sticking out from a large basket. Thinking it was a bunch of star fruit gone terribly wrong, I discovered what to the Asian world is a highly prized culinary treasure rarely found in North America: Buddha’s Finger Citron. Nearly the size of a Hawaiian pineapple and priced at $6.99 each, these eye-catching lemons were a mass of rind and pulp. I wasn’t certain much juice could be gotten from such a fleshy thing, but it seems that it’s favoured more for its smell than its taste. Apparently people in China and Japan have been near-worshiping this odd-looking citrus fruit for more than a millenium, and in China it is said to be good luck at Chinese New Year and to bring good fortune to the home. I’m willing to bet that most of my Chinese friends and family have never even seen this lemony behemoth or else I would certainly have heard of it before.
Last week I saw sweet limes at the same store, and the week before that clementines so fresh their glossy leaves and stems made them look as though they’d been picked no less than a day or two before they were put out for sale. Whole Foods was the first place I discovered yellow beets and multi-hued carrots, baby cauliflower heads so small the were the size of cupcakes, and mangoes so massive their weight and size rivaled that of a newborn child. But they’re all outrageous prices, so who’s buying this stuff? And do we really need something as frivolous as this crazy lemon, flown halfway across the world and likely harvested by workers paid pennies an hour?
If you really want to go on a visual tour of Southeast Asian fruit in Vancouver, head to the Public Market at Granville Island. There’s nowhere else in Vancouver I’ve ever seen fresh fruits such as dragonfruit, rambutan, mangosteen, breadfruit, cherimoya, Chinese dates, lychee, longan, passion fruit, prickly pear, soursop, tamarind pods, to name just a few of the exotic things you can find at the market. None of them are local, and most of them come from as far away as the lemon above. Nice to see but shown off more for the wow factor than as necessary cuisine.