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Amazing, Weird, Exotic & Delicious Fruits in Southeast Asia

New foods and traveling go hand in hand with each other. If you aren’t going to sample the local cuisine and instead prefer your McDonald’s, well then you might want to think twice about traveling somewhere exotic. Those type of people are scaredy-cat travelers — brave enough to travel but still fearful of trying anything new — and although they may feel safe and secure with their comfort foods, all they are doing in fact is making the rest of us look ignorant. Life starts just outside of your comfort zone…so go on, live life! Try something new.

Fruit Is Nature’s Candy

Fruit never killed anybody and is certainly a lot less likely to give you food poisoning than that questionable mystery meat you purchased from a street vendor. “Wait…is this dog??(Turns out it was!)

While there may be one or two fruits on this list that are not quite to your liking, I guarantee that the majority will leave you impressed and wanting more! So go on, take a look, and be sure to comment below with your experiences, favorites fruits, and any others that I’ve missed — because this is nowhere near the full list of Southeast Asia Fruit fruits!

  Here’s a quick gift for all you Pinners 😉

20 delicious fruits to try while traveling Asia that you probably have never heard of! #travel #asia #food #fruit #traveltips #travelguide #foodie #southeastasia #budgettravel #foodguide

Top 20 Weird & Delicious Southeast Asia Fruit

Starfruit in Vietnam, one of the amazing, weird and exotic fruits of Southeast Asia

Starfruit

  Also known as carambola
One look at this fruit and you would be able to guess the name without ever having heard of it before thanks to the five ridges that run down its sides. Not only is it juicy and delicious but often times it is sliced and the cross sections will be used to garnish drinks or food platters.

Mangosteen in Malaysia, one of the amazing, weird and exotic types of Southeast Asia fruit

Mangosteen

  Primarily found in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand
This tropical fruit has a tough outer peel but is well worth the work to enjoy its sweet tangy taste. However it also has a very very short season, meaning it can often be hard to find and somewhat expensive compared to other fruits.

Jackfruit in Vietnam, one of the amazing, weird and exotic fruits of Southeast Asia

Jackfruit

Apparently this fruit can grow to weigh 30 kilos or more, however I’ve only seen the smaller varieties for sale from street vendors in Vietnam. I don’t really know how to describe the taste (that’s why I’m not a food blogger!) but they are really good and really sticky. They also have a large seed in the center.

Snakefruit aka "salak&quote in Indonesia, one of the amazing, weird and exotic fruits of Southeast Asia

Snakefruit

  Also known as salak
Grown in bunches at the base of a species of palm trees, snakefruit plantations can be found throughout Sumatra, Indonesia. I got an inside look at one while filming my Siak tourism film — that is also where I first sampled this tasty fruit. The name comes from its scaly brownish-red skin, which can be peeled back to reveal three white lobes and a large seed.

Durian truck in Chiang Mai, Thailand, one of the amazing, weird and exotic fruits of Southeast Asia

Durian

Every foreign traveler to Asia has encountered the unmistakable durian. Although many Westerners don’t care for their pungent smell and…well…rather indescribable taste, Asians however absolutely love them. But there is no middle ground — you either adore them or despise them. Durian is also used to make a variety of food products, most particularly sweets, chocolates, and pastries.

Dragonfruit for sale in Thailand, one of the amazing, weird and exotic fruits of Southeast Asia

Dragonfruit

  Also known as pitaya
Undoubtedly the coolest-looking fruit of them all, dragonfruit is one that you will never forget the look of. However the taste is easy to forget and nothing special. Not bad, just bland.

Rambutan in Costa Rica but natively from Indonesia, making it one of the amazing, weird and exotic fruits of Southeast Asia

Rambutan

Originally native to Indonesia and Malaysia, rambutan has spread to tropical climates all over the world and is probably one of the most well-known of all the fruits in this post. It is also very juicy and delicious, kind of like an exotic grape — just remember that there is a small nut in the center so don’t choke on it (like my buddy Jared nearly did in the video below).



Longan in China, one of the amazing, weird and exotic fruits of Southeast Asia

Longan

Despite being similar to rambutan both in appearance (once peeled) and taste, surprisingly the two come from completely different families of fruit species. The fruit is very sweet and juicy plus is often used for cooking in soups, snacks, sweets and desserts, especially in China.

Lychee in Indonesia, one of the amazing, weird and exotic types of Southeast Asia fruit

Lychee

Writing about rambutan and longan also reminded me of lychee, a third fruit that is nearly identical in appearance to the other two — once peeled, of course. It is originally native to China and found in a lot of desserts there. However I’ve also seen it in countless juices throughout all the countries in Southeast Asia.

Pulasan in Malaysia, one of the amazing, weird and exotic fruits of Southeast Asia

Pulasan

This fruit is often confused with rambutan, which you can see pictured behind the pulasan. However it is much less hairy and therefore easy to distinguish once you know the difference. The inner part still looks exactly the same — clear, semi-translucent fruit with a single nut in the middle — but it is sweeter than both rambutan and lychee. Very good but impossible to find outside of southeast Asia.

Pomelo, one of the amazing, weird and exotic types of Southeast Asia fruit

Pomelo

  Also known as shaddock or lusho fruit
Closely related to grapefruit, pomelo is much sweeter than its bitter cousin and a good deal larger. In fact it is the largest citrus fruit in the world, often measuring 20-25 centimetres (8-10 inches) and weighing as much as 2 kilos (4½ pounds).

Kumquat delivery bike in Vietnam the week before Tet. Kumquat is one of the amazing, weird and exotic fruits of Southeast Asia


Kumquat

When I first saw these all over Vietnam I thought they were tangerines but it turns out I was wrong. Although they are most commonly used in making marmalade, jelly and preserves, I’ve also seen them at a few Vietnamese soup shops intended for squeezing the juice into your soup — much as you would with a lime. Very good!

Breadfruit in Indonesia, one of the amazing, weird and exotic fruits of Southeast Asia

Breadfruit

I personally have never tried breadfruit but have seen it growing in Indonesia. Rather than eating the fruit raw, most often it is cooked by baking, broiling, roasting or frying. My friends in Indonesia described it as tasting kind of like potatoes or bread, hence the name.

Water apple in Thailand, one of the amazing, weird and exotic fruits of Southeast Asia

Water Apple

  Also known as champoo or bell fruit
This small, bell-shaped fruit is very watery with a slight crunch to it, not dissimilar to a watermelon except that it only has one seed in the center instead of several scattered throughout. The fruit is often served uncut, but with the core removed, to preserve the unique bell-shaped presentation.

Tamarindin Vietnam, one of the amazing, weird and exotic types of Southeast Asia fruit

Tamarind

Often ignored by Westerners due to its dull brown, unattractive exterior and even more disturbing interior (which has veins growing down the outside of the pulp), tamarind is actually quite good, even a tad sour. After cracking open the brittle shell and removing the veins you suck on the remaining part for a few minutes until all that’s left in your mouth is a small seed, which can be spit out. I’m actually eating them as I type this post 😉 (pardon the crappy phone photo)

Santol, one of the amazing, weird and exotic fruits of Southeast Asia

Santol

  Also known as cotton fruit or sour apple
This final addition is the only one on this list except for breadfruit that I have not yet tried, hence the photo from WikiMedia. The fruit can be found in several Thai dishes and curries, most notably Som Tam krathon.

Other Southeast Asia fruits that I am still searching for includes:

  • Sapodilla   Also known as Ciku, a popular tropical fruit whose exterior resembles the kiwi
  • Yangmei   Also known as Waxberry or Chinese Strawberry, this native fruit from China can be eaten fresh, dried or fermented to make baijiu, a Chinese liquor
  • Noni   Also known as Indian Mulberry or Cheese fruit, the latter of which is because this fruit has a pungent smell and apparently does not taste that good
  • Sugar Apple   Also known as Sweetsop, it is said to taste similar to custard

Eaten Any Of These Fruits?

Like what you read?
About Derek Freal

"Some people eat, others try therapy. I travel."   Cultural enthusiast. Adrenaline junkie. Eater of strange foods. Chasing unique and offbeat adventures around the world since 2008. Derek loves going to new destinations where he does not speak a word of the local language and must communicate with hand gestures, or places where he is forced to squat awkwardly to poo -- supposedly its healthier and more efficient. For more information (about Derek, not squat pooing) including popular posts and videos, check out his bio.

70 thoughts on “Amazing, Weird, Exotic & Delicious Fruits in Southeast Asia”

  1. It is SO good, isn’t it Cristina? 😀 And to think I was actually a bit nervous to try it the first time. Of course that was back in 2010 when I was still new to traveling and trying exotic foods. Nowadays….well I’m much more seasoned, to put it nicely. Nothing scares me now 😉

    Reply
    • Mangosteens are friggin’ amazing, I totally second your enthusiasm! The first place I ever had them was from a street vendor in KL. Liked them so much I ate them all while walking around and had to go back for a second bag to take back to the hostel with me hehehe 🙂

      Reply
  2. Really Yishyene, all 20? Even the final four at the bottom that I don’t have pictures for? Wow, well you’ve got me beat then! I’ve only eaten 14 of the 16 pictured, and of course as I mentioned at the end I’m still on the hunt for those last four 🙂

    Reply
  3. Heard it’s good but never tried it. I know it’s prevalent in Central America / Caribbean too and I feel like I’ve seen it before…just never actually tried it, at least as far as I know. Of course if you think it’s good well then it must be. Oh I *really* want to try some now!

    Reply
  4. Interesting post, reading it makes me want to try all those exotic fruits, I’ve only tried Longan and Pomelo, both are super tasty. I’m sad that I didn’t try Dragon fruit if I had a chance in Thailand.

    Reply
    • Yeah I absolutely love trying new foods and fruits when traveling. You didn’t miss much with dragon fruit — the taste is rather bland, which was surprising considering it’s bright and unique exterior. Try rambutan or mangosteen if you get the opportunity — they are both amazing and delicious fruits 🙂

      Reply
  5. I’ve actually most of those. I’ve had santol with my mom when I was a kid. My sister in law is a food buyer and had some yangmei. It’s called Yumberry commercially. You can find a lot of these fruits in the super Asian hoods in the States or Canada. I’ve seen cherimoya and soursop even. The only ones I haven’t seen over here are snakefruit and durian.

    Reply
  6. Salak is delicious Arnette but not surprised it cannot be found in the States or even the Chinatowns…it’s more of a Malay / Indonesian fruit. And yeah, something tells me that durian will NEVER make it’s way onto the streets of North America hahaha 😉

    Reply
  7. Thanks for the info Ryan, between those and a few other suggestions I’ve heard, turns out that 1) I still have lots of new fruits to discover in Asia and 2) looks like I’ll be able to do a follow-up post of “even more exotic fruits in Asia” 😉

    Reply
  8. What a great post. I had no idea there were so many different types of fruit in South East Asia. We´re going there next year so I certainly want to give them all a try. So far I´ve only ever eaten breadfruit and lycee. I love lycee! I had breadfruit chips in Dominica – like French fries – they were delish!

    Reply
    • I know, it’s amazing what new things you discover when traveling, isn’t it! Plus since publishing this post I’ve learned of several other new fruits that I never knew existed. Now if I can only find them then I may one day have enough for an additional post on the impressive fruit of SEA 😉

      Reply
    • Thanks Jamie, I completely agree with you. Although sometimes I miss strawberries…they are just so tough to find on a regular basis throughout SEA and usually somewhat expensive when I do find them — at least compared to other fruits — because they all have to be imported. However since writing this article I’ve learned of several other new fruits that I have yet to come across so now the hunt is on to try them as well 🙂

      Reply
  9. Bro!! Here are my takes on the fruits:

    Starfruit – Started eating during kindergarten and have you tried the juice? Awesome!
    Mangosteen – I love the taste but sometimes, they are messy! Heard this one is anti-cancer.
    Jackfruit – There are 2 trees at my parent’s house. Sweet and love it! Put in the fridge and eat the fruit. Awesomeee~!
    Snakefruit – I have never tried buah salak which is raw because in Malaysia, it is famous as pickles.
    Durian – What can I say, I love going to durian buffet in my city!!!
    Dragonfruit – I agree, taste is quite bland. But the juice is refreshing sometimes.
    Rambutan – A tip. Peel it, and put the fruit in a container and then in a fridge. Eat when cold! Tastes nice!!
    Longan and lychee – Never eat the raw fruit coz normally I ate those when they put in drinks.
    Pulasan – Do you know pulas is twist in Bahasa and pulasan is because to eat it, you have to twist it?
    Pomelo – known as limau bali in Malaysia, I love the sour taste!
    Kumquat – I call them simply as limau. Hahah
    Breadfruit – Never heard, never saw,never tried
    Water apple – This is funny. In English, the name is apple. But in Bahasa Malaysia, we call it jambu air. While guava is jambu batu. Which means, different category altogether. My parent’s house has a tree 😉
    Tamarind – Wow! Normally I just drink the juice to relieve sore throat [traditional belief].
    Santol – Is it dokong in Bahasa Malaysia?
    Ciku – I love!! They are sweet! I think I still have several at home. Will try and snap a photo if the fruit is still around! 🙂

    Reply
    • Wow, great to hear Khai! Let’s see…I’ve never tried starfruit juice, just eaten it, but I’ve also heard that about mangosteen as well. Cancer is one thing that scares me (that and Alzheimer’s b/c I don’t want to forget my travels) so anything that has lots of antioxidants to help combat free radicals, well I’ll eat it in hordes! I’ve got a bag of jackfruit in the fridge right now hehehe. Try raw salak if you ever have the chance, very good!

      What, there is such a thing as a durian buffet??? Does it have all sorts of different foods made with durian or what? Wow, now I’m so curious to go and see this. When I come back to Malaysia you’ll have to show me where it is 🙂 Never tried dragonfruit juice either but chilled rambutan sounds amazing! I did not know that about pulasan though, interesting bit of trivia hehehe. Water apple is simply called jambu in Bahasa Indonesia and I’ve never had (or even heard of) tamarind juice. Is it good? I think santol is also dokong but am not entirely sure. And yes, please send me a photo of ciku if you still have some — would like to replace the WikiMedia photo with a more personal one.

      Thanks for the long comment bro, hope your week is going well! 😀

      Reply
      • Hola Derek my friend!

        Anti-oxidant, yes that was the word I was looking for when writing the comment but unfortunately, it did not come out and thus anti-cancer it was. Haha

        Durian buffet is where you can have unlimited durian! Pay RM 10 and eat as much as you want. Sounds cool, no? Hehehe

        The tamarind juice, it is soooo strong feel like choking myself. But now they have the lighter version in bottles selling in places like 7-E.

        And sorry man! When I returned home, no more ciku left at home!

        Reply
    • Wow, alright…seems I have definitely missed many Asian fruits. Looks like I’m going to have to keep searching for them and eventually write a part two to this post 😉 Have you heard of chico? That’s one that another friend said is only available in the Philippines. And yes I will definitely be back there again soon 🙂

      Reply
      • Sapodilla (Manilkara zapota) is the same as chico! In Indonesia, it’s called sawo. I’m surprised you’ve never had it–it seems to be all over the place, at least here in Sumatra. It’s delicious and tastes a bit like brown sugar. Sometimes in the market, if not looking carefully, one might mistake them for small potatoes.

        Also, did you know that Dragon Fruit grows on a cactus vine? The flower is absolutely stunning, but blooms for a ridiculously short amount of time.

        Another fun fact: in Malaysia, they often say that you should eat durian with mangosteen to avoid the bad effects of the durian. In Indonesia, at least my part of rural Sumatra, people warn that eating the two together is dangerous–almost as dangerous as drinking alcohol and eating durian.

        Best salak I ever had was fresh picked growing wild in the middle of the rainforest.

        Have you ever tried eating the white pulp growing around the seeds of a freshly picked cacao pod? Really delicious. Of course, cacao, like dragon fruit and sawo/sapodilla/chico, is native to the new world.

        Have you tried Terong Belanda/Pirus (Tamarillo) juice? Also pretty good, and really common here in Sumatra.

        Finally, some interesting recent studies about Jackfruit: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/apr/23/jackfruit-miracle-crop-climate-change-food-security

        Reply
        • Wow, thanks for the thorough and informative comment Luke! Haven’t heard of sawo, at least not that I can recall, but given what you said I wouldn’t be surprised if I have walked right past it in the markets without even realizing.

          I’ve never seen dragon fruit growing in the wild but now I really want to! The fruit is already unique enough looking as it is seeing a vine of them complete with flowers must be a really neat sight.

          Hmmmm….so which do you think is correct? Mangosteen and durian combo or not? It’s interesting how cultures have completely opposite beliefs. However behind all beliefs is an element of truth.

          I had some amazing salak at a plantation in Riau but have not found any growing wild in the rainforest. Especially given how fertile rainforest soil is I bet those were indeed a tasty snack 🙂

          Nope, I have not tried eating the white pulp from a cacao pod or only recently tried tamarind juice. Is that the same as tamarillo juice? It was definitely good.

          Whoa, that is a wildly interesting article on jackfruit — thanks for sharing it. I really like jackfruit but appreciate it even more so now after realizing all that it can do. Had no idea the wood from the tree was also useful, or that it was edible before that fruit has even matured. Very cool stuff!

          Reply
    • Here’s the funny thing: I thought that I had covered most all of the tropical fruits in Asia but I’ve learned of another 20 or so that I’ve missed. So appears I still have lots of exploring and eating to do — all in the name of “research” for part two of my Southeast Asian fruits post hehehe 🙂

      Reply
  10. Southeast Asia is really blessed in this department, that’s for sure. I’ve tried most of them – I love Starfruit, Mangosteen, Lychee and Tamarind. A big NO to Durian. I’ve been in Thailand all my life but I still cannot bring myself to like this – Haha! It’s truly a Love or Hate kinda thing. Anyways, fantastic collection, Derek!

    Reply
    • I actually tried a variety of chocolates and sweets made with durian before ever coming around to trying the fruit by itself. Nowhere near as bad as I excepted — but then again this is coming from the guy who also said that after eating raw cobra organs and washing it all down with a glass, no, not a shot but a full-fledged glass of blood and muscle tendons…so I can understand if you fail to believe me. Personally I think the infamous reputation that durian has with western travelers hyped it up too much in my head and made me anticipate much worse.

      If given the choice between dragonfruit or durian I will always opt for the latter.

      Reply
  11. Very true about no middle ground with durian. I posted a picture of durian and did a similar post as this and all people commented on was how much they either loved or hated durian. I have to say though that I buck the trend. I thought it was ok although the pungent smell and the after taste that lingered for hours were not so great, but the fruit itself tasted ok. I would love to try it again.

    Reply
    • Glad to hear Ted, my thoughts exactly. The taste wasn’t bad — nowhere near the horrendous taste I was expecting — but the aftertaste gets annoying. I would usually only eat it as a light snack shortly before lunch or dinner.

      Have you ever come across langsat (aka lazones), sapodilla, sweetsop, duhuat (fruit of Syzygium cumini) or noni in your travels? There’s like ten others I want to list but most don’t have one solid name for the fruit but rather a different local name in each country, I would assume because there is no market for exportation and these fruits are only eaten locally. Anyway now I’ve realized there are still many more exotic fruits to try in Asia and the hunt is on! 😀

      Reply
  12. Mangosteen is SO good! Definitely one of my favorites, which of course I can never find here in Italia. Many others on your list are some of my favorite fruits too. I think I could just eat fruit in SE Asia and be a very happy girl.

    Reply
    • I completely agree with you Jennifer…the fruits in SEA are some of my favorites and I could eat them all day every day without growing tired of them hehehe 🙂 However since publishing that article I’ve learned of nearly two dozen more fruits, most found only in selected regions of certain countries. Seems like I have many more fruits to try and maybe in six months or so, once I’ve traveled and found most of them, I will be able to write a follow-up piece on the most obscure fruits in SEA 😉

      Reply
  13. As a tropical fruit lover, I’ve tried many of these, including starfruit,dragonfruit, lychee, tamarind, breadfruit, pomelo and kumquat. My favorite by far is tamarind, which I love as a juice or ice cream. It’s also very high in iron, which is a benefit for me since I’m anemic. Lychee is my second favorite but sweetsop, which you list as wanting to try is another fave, as well as it’s cousin, soursop. It has the consistency of custard but it doesn’t taste like it to me, it tastes milky and sweet.

    Reply
    • I keep hearing about this tamarind juice and have yet to come across it but now am curious. Lychee is one of my favorites as well. I’m excited to try sweetsop and now sousop as well. Ever since I wrote this piece I’ve learned of so many more new fruits to try and the hunt is on! Have you ever come across langsat (aka lazones) or duhuat (fruit of Syzygium cumini) in your travels? There’s like ten others I want to list but most don’t have one solid name for the fruit but rather a different local name in each country, I would assume because there is no market for exportation and these fruits are only eaten locally.

      Reply
  14. Oh hunger pangs! SE Asia has the best fruits in the world. I didn’t see any guava or Asian mango on the list though – love those too.
    The saying should go ‘A WATER Apple a day keeps the doctor away’ 😉 I could totally manage THAT!

    Reply
    • Thought about including guava but didn’t have a photo…and because that is already so well-known around the world. Isn’t an Asian mango just a normal mango or is it a different variety of species? I’ve learned of many new fruits since writing this post so it looks like the hunt will continue. Maybe by next year I’ll have photos of another 20 exotic fruits and be ready to a follow-up post. 😉

      Reply
      • Definitely need a follow-up!
        As for the mango, it are smaller and more yellow in SE Asia. You can hold them in one hand and if you cut them along the smaller end you can eat them like an ice cream cone… this may be a bit hard to explain with words but it is DIVINE nonetheless 🙂

        Reply
  15. Tamarind? Dip it in a bowl of sugar..that’s how we made our homemade candy. And have you tried kunyit asam? It’s a traditional drink made of tumeric, tamarind, and honey.. So refreshing and healthy, better served cold..
    WARNING! Never eat Noni rawww….!! The smell and horrible taste will haunt you to death.. hehe

    Reply
    • I just found a new type of fruit in Vietnam last week and it was amazingly good! I will have to go back to the market again soon to buy more and take photos…then maybe I can figure out what the name is. Far as I can tell it’s nothing that is either on my list of fruits still to try or has been mentioned in any of the comments here. Looks like I’ve found another newbie — hooray! Ahhh SEA I love you 🙂

      Reply
  16. Great photos! I’ve never heard of half of those fruits. I love tamarind juice, but never ate the fruit. I’ve never tried lychee, but have always wanted to ever since my uncle told me the lychee vendor was a big part of his childhood in South China. I like starfruit, but it doesn’t beat oranges in my book. I love kumquats, and also loquats – we had a loquat bush when I was a kid in L.A. I tried breadfruit in Zanzibar, and the spongy texture was okay, but I found the taste bland, not like bread or fruit. I’ve never gotten past the disgusting odor of Durian, but I’m determined to try it someday as I hear it’s much tastier than it smells.

    Reply
    • Everyone keeps mentioning tamarind juice but I only tried that for the first time about two weeks ago. I think I prefer the fruit over the juice though. Starfruit, rambutan and lychee are some of my favorites from this list, although jackfruit, snakefruit (salak) and kumquats are also pretty good. Durian is not bad IMO, although the sweets made with it are definitely better despite being oddly…ummm how should I put it…contradictory in taste.

      This is why I love traveling and especially the new foods you discover along the way…you never know what to expect! 😀 Thanks for your comment Cara.

      Reply
  17. You’re missing a lot — like lanzones (taste a bit like rambutan & one of my favourites!) and the sinequelas. We got a lot here in the Philippines too. These fruits (including those that are on your list) are very common in Southeast Asia.

    Reply
    • Oh I know. Thanks for the suggestions, I’m definitely looking forward to continuing my hunt for new fruits and writing a part two of this post 🙂 And yes, I definitely need to come back to the Philippines again soon. January was my first trip back there since 2010 and I had forgotten how much I loved/missed that country 😀

      Reply

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