Posted by: adventuressetravels | June 29, 2012

The Lotus Eaters

Walking down the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia vendors carrying basked filled with enormous, green discs caught my eye.  Could they be for decoration?  Could they be fruit?  They didn’t look remotely similar to any type of fruit I was familiar with.  But I was in Southeast Asia; there certainly were some different dietary habits here.  Still, the question nagged at me:  What on earth were they?

Finally curiosity got the best of me and I asked a vendor.  Not surprisingly they didn’t speak a word of English.  At last I found a vendor who could give me the English name for the plants:  they were selling lotus fruit.

Lotus fruit!  This was the stuff of myth and legend!  The Odyssey told of the Lotus eaters who subsisted on the plant and lived in a drug-addled state of bliss where you cared for nothing but eating more lotus fruit.   I had always wondered what the fruit tasted like for years.  Did it have a delicious flavor?  And most of all how on earth did you eat the fruit?  Did you eat the whole huge lotus head?  Did you break it open?

The fact that the plants were sold on the street made me pretty sure that the narcotic addictive effect was the stuff of myth of legend.  When I couldn’t find any information as lotus fruit as a drug outside of literature I was convinced the fruit have the properties fables led me to believe.   But still I was fascinated.

A week or so later, some Khmer friends brought a lotus pod to a bar we were having drinks at.  Finally I would find out what all the fuss was about!

The girls broke open the fleshy green lotus head and pulled out one of the fruits, more a nut really.  Then they proceeded to show me how to peel the nut.  Biting the tender green casing that surrounded the firm white fruit inside, or slitting the outer pod open with a nail and peeling it back.

The fruit was slightly smaller than a macadamia nut, and had a similar consistency to an un-roasted fresh nut.  I popped the first one in my mouth preparing for some overwhelmingly delicious flavor and chewed.  It was juicy, and had the crunchy firmness similar to a fresh uncooked pea, but the taste was all but non-existent.

It was fun to break off pieces of the lotus head, get out the seeds, peel them, and eat them, but the fun was more in the process and sharing them.  We rolled some in salt and that was nice, but even this flavor enhancer only made the lotus nuts taste like salty, juicily-crunchy bits of nothing.

Perhaps my palate is not refined enough for this food and I am missing something truly delightful.  Maybe I should give it a chance dried or roasted.  I do recommend trying lotus if you are in Cambodia.  Don’t get me wrong, I do like the juicy crunch, and eating salt-dipped lotus nuts is unquestionably healthier than eating potato chips, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up for the ambrosia of myth and legend.

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Responses

  1. In India we have similiar fruit which grows in the small ponds just a litle after the rainy season.
    Named “Shinghara” the nut can be dried also and than can be grinded like flour.

  2. Maybe Homer’s lotus eating is a metaphor for hanging out with friends doing nothing much but doing it together?


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