Manisan: Tropical Fruit Delights

Recently, a friend of mine who had been to Medan, the capital of North Sumatra, gave me a special gift from the region, a preserved Thai guava. Locally known as manisan jambu, the white flesh of preserved guava is well packaged and completed with a small bag of black spicy sauce called sambal rujak. The sauce is made of palm sugar, tamarind and chilli and makes for a great dip, adding a spicy flavour to the mildly sweet and crunchy flavours of the guava flesh. Marvellous!

In Medan, you will find many of these preserved guava sold on the streets as the whole round fruit, displayed within a big glass box. Should you want to eat this manisan on the spot, the vendor will happily slice the guava for you, remove its seeds and serve it with a side dish of sambal rujak.

Slices of preserved guava are a convenient way of consuming vitamin C.

Savouring manisan jambu is a convenient way of consuming vitamin C, vital for healthy skin and boosting the body’s ability to protect cells. In fact, a single common guava contains about four times the amount of vitamin C as an orange. Guavas are also rich in manganese, which helps the body to absorb other key nutrients from the food we eat.

Indonesia is blessed with an abundance of exotic, tropical fruits, ranging from guava to carica (better known as mountain papaya), salak (salacca zalacca), a type of palm fruit known as snake fruit due to its red-brown scaly skin, and the gorgeously fragrant nutmeg (the spice is made from the seeds of the fruit). It seems that the abundance of certain fruit in some regions has triggered creativity in the way it is preserved and transformed into long-lasting, delicious delights. Preserved fruits normally come in two variants, namely wet and dried sweets.

Manisan carica or preserved carica with its tasty syrup makes a wonderful drink on a hot day.

Besides a moist manisan jambu, there is a wet variety of preserved carica, known as manisan carica, from the Dieng Plateau in Wonosobo, Central Java, which comes with a tasty syrup. Just add some ice cubes for a wonderful drink on a hot day. In Wonosobo, around 25km from Dieng, you can find many home industries producing preserved carica under different brand names. Some even have their own online sites to serve customers living far away.

Carica, or Gedang Memedi (caricapubescens), is native to the Andes, typically growing at altitudes of 1,500–3,000m, which explains why the plant thrives on the highlands of Dieng. Eaten raw, the flesh of nearly ripe carica tastes a little bit sour, but its sarcotesta or pulp is fragrant and sweet. The pulp is the basic ingredient for the syrup, made by simply adding hot water and sieving it through a strainer for the juice. The carica flesh, after being peeled and sliced, is stewed together with a mixture of syrup, sugar and salt to create the luscious preserved fruit.

Apart from quenching your thirst, consuming manisan carica can also benefit your eyes since it is rich in vitamin A. It also contains properties that are beneficial to people suffering a range of digestive disorders and high blood pressure. The mountain papaya also contains arginine, which helps blood vessels relax and improves circulation.

Snake fruit, locally known as salak, is also preserved in a wet form. Sleman Regency, just north of the city of Yogyakarta, has plenty of snake-fruit orchards and has long been known as the source of manisan salak. The fruity treat is available in many snack shops, conveniently packaged to go.

The luscious snack manisan salak is also rich in health benefits.

Speaking of salak, it offers lots of health benefits: among others, there’s potassium and pectin to contribute to the improvement of memory; tannin,an excellent antioxidant and lots of calcium for strong bones. Salak also helps to reduce acidity and contains phytonutrients for vitality.

Preserving snake fruit is quite simple. After the scaly skin is peeled, the flesh is split in two and stewed in white granulated cane sugar. Once the fermentation process is completed over a few days, the flesh of salak, along with its tasty syrup, can be enjoyed cold. So refreshing.

However, if you prefer a candied fruit for a snack, rather than a beverage, you perhaps should try the caramelised nutmeg from Manado, North Sulawesi. Locally known as manisan buah pala, the flesh of the nutmeg fruit is soaked and sieved many times using different combinations of liquids to absorb the sweetness of sugar. It is then left in the sun for a few days and sprinkled with sugar to finish. The resulting snack has a sweet, minty taste.

For those of you who suffer from insomnia, nutmeg can help since it is high in magnesium, which encourages the production of the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter serotonin, which in turn promotes relaxation and influences sleep cycles.

The health benefits of tropical fruit are many and diverse – and it is fortunate that there is such a bounty of wonderful varieties. While the sugar content means preserved fruit is more of a treat than a replacement for fresh fruit in the diet, it would be a shame to visit Indonesia and not sample some of these most tempting tropical delights.