Towards the end of the rainy season, around September, the markets around the north are filled with piles of the oddly shaped dragon fruits. This relative new-comer is now a common sight in the markets and on the table when it is in season. Dragon fruit always attracts attention with its bright pinkish-red skin that has green tinted scales protruding. It easily brings to mind what dragon's eggs might look like, hence the common name. Even the Thai name roughly translates to "glass dragon".
Dragon fruit on sale in Chiang Mai market
Beneath the skin, the meat of the fruit is equally striking. The flesh of the most common variety is usually snow white sprinkled with edible black seeds the size and shape of sesame seeds. There is also a variety with crimson red flesh, which is slightly smaller with a darker red skin. The flesh of both types has the texture of watermelon, but a taste that comes closer to kiwi fruit.
Dragon fruit comes from a type of cactus plant, which originated in South America, but now has become strongly identified with Vietnam, which is where most Thais think it comes from. The night blooming flower is supposed to be quite spectacular, with a strong sweet fragrance designed to attract bats and moths to pollinate it. The flower blooms for just one night before fading away, to be replaced by the fruit.
A dragon fruit ripens on it's succulent plant
Seeing so many fruits on sale all over the city, and even in shops that didn't normally even sell any fruits, I asked my driver Ben if they were grown nearby. As it happened, he knew of a farm just outside Chiang Mai, because it was near his home. The farm was just off a main road, and was quite large indeed. There were dragon fruit trees stretching out as far as you could see. Oddly for a 'cactus', the dragon fruit plants are grown in fields around Chiang Mai with water filled trenches between the rows of plants. The plants have a spindly stalk about an inch in diameter that grows up five or six feet high. Like grape vines, the stalks are supported on stakes. At the top of the stalks the fleshy leaves extend out along the supporting wires. The fruits appear rather incongruously along the edges of the cross-shaped leaves.
Although plentiful when in season, the relatively low yield from the farms makes the fruits a little more expensive than most local produce. A kilogram of the white fleshed variety sells for about 75 U.S. cents, while the red fleshed type is slightly more.