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The Thy Tracker (continued)


May 15–23  Peranakan  24–25  27–29  Sireh  30a  30b  30c–31
Malaysia: Melaka June 1–2, Kuala Lumpur 3–4, Penang 6
Vietnam: Saigon 13–16  19-20  22  26  27 30
Nha Trang July 7a 7b, Hue 14a 14b, Hanoi 19–20
India: Pondicherry 31, Bangalore August 2–4, Kerala

SAIGON, VIETNAM (continued)

June 26, Tuesday

Years ago, someone spit a jackfruit seed into Ba Tu's (Great-Aunt Number 4's) yard. She suspects that it was from the fruit of her younger brother's tree, but no one can know for sure. The seed grew into a small tree that now bears a only few fruit each year--but what jackfruits these are! The very last one of the season was ready to be picked just days after my parents arrived in Vietnam. It was monstrous in size, dangling by sheer will near the top of the tree. Trinh, my teenaged tomboy cousin, was dispatched to cut the fruit. With a machete clamped between her teeth and a rope wrapped around her wrist, she slowly worked her way up the tree from branch to branch. We all offered a stream of advice from the ground, some of it redundant but most of it conflicting. The main argument was whether she needed to lash the heavy fruit once around or criss-cross it twice. My hungry cousin opted for a quick loop, then she began hacking the stem.

My littlest cousin shows off the day's catch.

Although the once-around contingent won the short-term debate, the twice-around people had plenty of last words when the fruit dropped to the ground with a dull thud. One of my aunts instinctively stepped forward with open arms to catch the falling fruit, but we all screamed and pushed her out of the way before the jackfruit could hit her. It weighed over thirty pounds--enough to knock her into a coma if her head had been in its way. Even a slight brush with the spine-covered rind would leave a nasty scrape.

One of my uncles cut the jackfruit in half, then my aunts and cousins separated its lobes and removed its large, dark brown seeds. There was so much that they saved half for eating the next day. It wouldn't be as good, confided my aunt, but even my own large family wouldn't be able to finish it off in one day. We munched jackfruit all afternoon and throughout the next day, agreeing the whole while that it was the best one we'd ever tasted.

Like durian, jackfruit grows directly from the tree's trunk. This laden clump of trees grows behind the home of my aunt, Di Le.

There are two main kinds of jackfruit, or mit in Vietnamese. The big one we cut from my aunt's tree happened to be my favorite, a dry one. Mit kho, "dry jackfruit," has a firmer texture and milder flavor. Mit uot, "wet jackfruit," is very soft and sweet. When I came back to Vietnam for the first time ten years ago, fatigue, illness, and overwhelming rushes of sadness, joy, and confusion at every turn left me emotionally raw and frequently teary. So, my family nicknamed me Mit Uot for my tendency to cry easily.

My mom considers the flavor of mit to nu.

An unusual variety of wet jackfruit, mit nghe, grows behind one of my mother's cousin's home. Nghe means turmeric, a reference to the rich color of this fruit's flesh. Someone gave my mother yet another variety to taste. This jackfruit was quite small, barely bigger than her palm, with smooth, soft, distinctively perfumed flesh. Some like this variety, mit to nu, for its delicacy. Its lobes, few in number, were almost custard like in texture.

But I still prefer the mega-huge one, perhaps as much for the drama of its fall as for its flavor and texture.

More Saigon >

June 2001