I was walking around my local Bac My An market last week near Danang Beach in Central Vietnam and I saw this unusual spiky orange fruit.
It was sitting on a table in the back corner, and I spotted it through the sprawling maze of boxes, clothes piles, squawking chickens, flapping fish and hanging dead animals.
I get to the market every few weeks, and the market ladies still cackle at the sight of me taking photos.
They always give me big smiles and the two finger peace sign photo salute.
When I saw these bizarre looking armoured fruits, I had to get inside one and find out more.
I'd been living in Danang, Vietnam for only 4 months – but living around Asia for 5 years and travelling Thailand and Cambodia for the last 18 years and I'd never seen these before.
A few quick inquiries established that these were called "Gac fruit" and that it's popular for health and good luck.
They're available all year but especially popular around Christmas and throughout Tet - the Vietnamese New Year as their peak season is around these 2 months.
To get more information in English, it's better to search by the latin genus & species, Momordica cochinchinensis
as names usually change by geographic location
Their main use is for a dish called 'Xoi Gac' which translates as glutinous (Sticky) rice with Gac fruit.
Gac fruit have a very mild taste but they make up for that with a murderously intense red colour.
They've also got and the highest beta carotene concentration of any fruit or veg on the planet.
Plainly speaking, Bugs Bunny should have flown to Asia and chowed down on Gac instead of carrots.
For those of you that block the supermarket aisle reading nutrition information on the sides of food packaging:
- Gac has high concentrations of phytonutrients,
- the beta carotene is absorbed readily into the bloodstream,
- its good for your eyes and skin
- according to research it's proven to blocking a particular enzyme associated with cancer
- reduces the size of tumours through it's mega-high lycopene content
- decreases risk of heart disease
- It even appears in a fox news article, surprisingly enough
- good for the prostate, eyes, skin and wounds
- 10 times more beta carotene than carrots and 70 times more lycopene than tomatoes
I bought my first gac fruit more out of morbid curiosity and a desire to try something different. I like to give my chefs new toys to play with and I like it even more when they teach me new things and local dishes.
This fruit would be a great addition to the opening scenes of the TV show "Dexter" – just hack it in half violently with a twelve inch chefs knife and a blood-curdling Xerces-style cry.
- Soak your sticky rice in cold water. Overnight is good, but an hour or two will suffice.
- Cut the Gac in half and scoop out all the red stuff. Yes, it's messy. Don't do it on your heirloom table cloth or wearing designed clothes.
If you want to avoid looking like Jeffrey Dahmer after a midnight snack, it pays to use latex gloves as well.
3. Squish and squeeze all of the red fleshy Gac off the stones, and then add it to your soaked sticky rice.
Give the Gac a good hard massage. Knead those tired aching Gac muscles and work the knots like a person possessed.
Add it into the rice and continue working the seeds to get all the Gac flesh off.
Squish and squeeze and massage that Gac flesh all the way through the rice until it's evenly coloured, and then put it into a steamer.
If your steamer has big holes or slats put it on top of muslin, cheese cloth, a teatowel or some banana leaf to stop it falling through.
Next step is to steam it.
Vietnamese sticky rice is short grain – plumper, fatter and stickier than its North Thai and North Laos counterpart. It takes a while longer to steam. Ours took about 40 minutes.
That depends on soaking time and steam pressure – and also the base. Muslin or cheese cloth is way better – and it steams faster.
The Xoi Gac can be served plain, or it can be served with 'bean paste'
Basically a puree or paste of small yellow split peas. We did a couple of different ways and everybody liked the two different tastes and textures of the Xoi Gac that was sandwiched with the yellow lentil.
We garnished ours with some toasted black sesame seeds and others with some shredded coconut flesh.
Both were tasty and recommended.
We made two batches – one salty and one sweet.
I should eat more gac fruit because I've got blood pressure that a firemans hose would be proud of.
Doctors tell me that it stems from from my penchant for eating salty and savoury food.
Salt is great for stopping the human heart dead in its tracks and probably undoes all the heart-related benefits of eating the Gac in the first place.
I should have stuck with the sweet dessert Xoi Gac and battled diabetes instead. <sigh>
I really like the salty Xoi Gac but the texture of the one with the lentil puree was definitely a winner.
This is a fun dish to play with and the presentation can be impressive too.
Sticky rice is easily moulded when it is fresh out of the steamer.
Have fun. I'd love your comments if you have tried this or have any other recipes or uses for Gac.
December and January are the main Gac months so we'll be featuring it here at the hotel while its in season which is up until Tet.
For more information on Xoi Gac and everything related to Vietnam, check out vietnamonline.com
Here's another great website dedicated to gac fruit that gives you heaps of info on health benefits, ways of cooking and serving, how to grow etc. Well worth a read.
Questions are very welcome, and please leave some comments if you know anything about gac fruit that I haven't covered, or other recipes using gac fruit.
Have a great day!