Be it the neon green slices of kiwi jostling for space with chocolate-covered strawberries on a birthday cake or muddled mandarins in a cocktail or the stinking yellow lobes of the durian eaten just as they are, Chennai’s fruit lovers are definitely reaching for the exotic this summer. And you do not have to go too far for luscious nectarines or the outlandish dragon fruit, your neighbourhood fruit market stocks these, and more. “Imported fruit may pinch the purse, but they are definitely worth a try. A few years ago, most of these fruits were unheard of; we had only seen some of them like blueberries, peaches and grapefruit in English movies. It is great that these fruits are flooding the market now, and we get an opportunity to taste fruit that we grew up reading about in story books,” says 30-year-old techie Praveen Joseph.
For Kovai Pazhamudhir Nilayam, 10 per cent of the revenue comes from exotic fruit. “Customers are definitely more open to trying new fruits. While mangoes make up 30 per cent of our volumes during the summer, we also order plenty of Thai exotics like mangosteen and rambutan, large high quality strawberries from Sri Lanka, and kiwis from New Zealand, Italy and Iran,” explains Senthil Natarajan, spokesperson for Kovai Pazhamudhir Nilayam. “The durian and soursop are known for their medicinal qualities, and customers keep requesting them. Expats from Eastern countries also pre-order the durian,” he adds. Indian farmers have also started growing exotic fruit, he says. “The mangosteen grown in Kerala is quite fast moving, as are figs from Andhra Pradesh. We also stock Indian pears, which are crisp and juicy. That makes up for the bland taste,” he adds.
Housewife Shobha Prakash points out that fruit grown in India have now become so pricey that one may as well pay a little more and sample an exotic imported fruit. “Indian pomegranates cost more than pears imported from the US and South Africa. These pears are sweet, juicy and crisp; and you can make a whole meal out of one,” she says. “We prefer ‘Washington’ apples and ‘Fiji’ apples, which have been available in Chennai for the past five to eight years, to the small and thick-skinned Indian varieties. The difference in price is not more than 10-20 rupees,” she points out. “It is sad that local summer fruits like nongu (ice-apple) are so difficult to find, and are quite pricey these days. In my childhood, we used to gorge on nongus; they were large and plentiful, and we would get one dozen for `3,” Shobha reminisces.