Friday, June 19, 2009

Unusual Fruits and Drinks

Recently I came across unusual fruits and drinks in Bangladesh.

Here is a Cham Kathal, looking exactly like a jackfruit, but only about six inches long.

Inside, a Cham Kathal has pods similar to a Jackfruit. However, they have a slightly sour taste. I understand the seeds inside the pods are also eaten, fried.

This fruit is called Deua. Inside it vaguely resembles Ata (custard apple), but again, quite sour.

Here are some other fruits, clockwise from bottom: Kath Lichu, Deshi Gab, Bel and Nuinya Fol.

Of these, the most intriguing is Kath Lichu. I just tried it yesterday. It tastes identical to Longan grown in Thailand and Malaysia, but it is much smaller (and the seed is bigger.)

I call these Galapagos potatoes, because of their resemblance to Galapagos turtles :-) Seriously, I have been unable to find out much about these potato-like roots. Someone told me about "Maitya Aloo" which may be this.

On the medicinal front, dried roots, barks and fruits abound. This man sells Arjun tree bark (useful for heart disease), as well as Trifola (combination of dried Amloki, Hortoki and Bohera - three fruits that, coincidentally, deer love to eat.)

Among drinks, Aloe Vera juice is very popular. Aloe plants are a cash crop in many places in Bangladesh.

Bangladeshis like their Shorbot - sweetened and flavored cold drinks. For example, one made from the fruit Bel is supposedly good for cooling during the heat (and for digestion.)

Then there is one made from Tok Doi (sour yogurt):

... and from Gur (molasses) with a sprinkle of Ishobguler Bhushi (flax seed?)

Here is some pre-made honey syrup for making more Shorbot!

I also love the Cashew apple but I don't have a good photo. I have not seen it sold in stores. You have to pluck it from the tree. It is filled with sweet juice inside, which bursts with flavor inside your mouth when you bite it. This year I tried refrigerating it - colder, it tastes much better. I understand people in CHittagong Hill Tracts make Toddy from it :-)

Conspicuously absent from the street is Beter Guta (the fruit of the cane tree) from my childhood. I understand cane is almost wiped out from Bangladesh :-(

A word to the wise: if you are bacterially challenged (ie, the bacteria in your stomach are used to western food, ie, you have lived in western countries for a while) then I urge caution when partaking.

Finally, I am gateful to Rais for indentifying Aloe, Stefan for teaching me about Cashew Apples and Gofur for showing me the Cham Kathal.

Bon appetit!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Planting Trees

This is tree-planting season in Bangladesh. There is also a Tree Planting Drive going on nationally with support from the highest levels.

Speaking of trees, the papers are usually full of articles bemoaning the deforestation of Bangladesh. I wonder, do these authors ever visit any village? If they do, they will find that every available spot in the villages are taken up by rows and rows of wood trees - such as mahogany, acacia, menjam, and so on - because the farmers have figured out it is profitable. Talk to any villager, and they will expound on how important and valuable it is to have lots of trees. So, what gives? Do they see a few trees downed in Dhaka and get all worked up, while missing a few million trees planted all over the country?

Ok, back to tree-planting. I prepared my patch of land for planting. This involved cutting drains through the middle to make sure water drained properly, as well as eliminating weeds. Then, I had to decide what trees to plant. The choices are: a) wood trees; b) fruit trees and c) ornamental trees. I opted for a mix of the three, since I like to see a variety rather than a repetitive pattern. Then, I had to decide how many to plant. That one is easy, because the standard formula is one tree every six feet, for most species.

Plan ready, I went off looking for seedlings to plant.

The first nursery I went to was a rural one. Here, I found lots of hardwood: acacia (akashmoni), menjam, mahogany, eucalyptus, sal (gojaria), neem, agar, arjun and others. I wrote down the prices (Tk 3-4 per seedling) and went away with a list of the available items to sort into a large order. But then my tree-experts warned me. The seedlings were too small. So? So the trees will take a lot more effort to nurture. Cows will eat them. Grass and weeds in the meadow will overtake them and they will get lost. It seemed the only reasonable ones were the menjam seedlings.

Then I sent people to other nurseries nearby. But guess what, all the larger seedlings were gone. That's because people had already bought them in anticipation of the rainy season. The ones left were either too small or crooked or bent. My experts advised me against the crooked and bent ones because they will grow to be crooked and bent trees. Oh well.

Back in Dhaka, I went looking for more seedlings. But Dhaka is urban. There is hardly any land left for tree-planting. People plant things in containers on their rooftops. And so the Dhaka nurseries cater to that clientele. There are plenty of pretty flower and smaller plants (agave, cactuses, other types of pretty-leaved plants.)

Then there are the fruit trees in Dhaka nurseries. Most popular are Apel-Kul and Bau-Kul, as well as varieties of mangoes and guavas. I saw a mango tree in a container, about six feet tall, from which three or four small mangoes dangled. Price? Tk 2000! Some years ago "Kaji Peara" - a dwarf guava plant that yielded large but tasteless guavas - was very popular. But I did not see many Kaji Pearas. Perhaps they had all been sold?

In the end I opted for a mix of Menjam (a tree that grows reasonably fast and produces good wood), Agar (value as perfume producer), Akashmoni, various Kuls, Neem, and a few Amra trees. We'll see in a few years how well they work out!