GTA has an abundance of imported fruits that are hard to find.  Here is where to find them

GTA has an abundance of imported fruits that are hard to find. Here is where to find them

As someone obsessed with fruits, some of my favorite food memories are from visiting fruit markets in cities like Sarawak, Bogota, and Mexico City.

Five years ago, I toured the famous Paloquemao fruit market in Bogotá. Before sunrise, I stuff my face with ripe guanabana (sour cream) and I sucked on the inner bags of maracuya (passion fruit), as the juices of the pulp were dripping down my hands.

I remember one vendor giving me a small, oval-shaped fruit, patterned in yellow and red, smaller than the size of my palm.

“Mango de Azucar,” she shouted over and over again.

You asked me to heart the sugar The mango is upside down, pierce it with my thumb and peel it like a banana. There was a strong fragrance, with hints of caramel. When I dropped the mango in my mouth, it flowed with sweet, ripe juice.

I remember thinking, while we have a lot of imported fruit in Toronto, we never see this stuff.

How things have changed. In the past five years, we’ve seen an explosion of hard-to-find imported fruits across the Greater Toronto Area.

“Seasonality and demand is why we see a lot of fruit during spring to early summer,” said Razmi Razek, produce buyer at Iqbal Halal Foods.

A cornerstone of the community, Thorncliffe Grocery is popular for its wide range of Middle Eastern and South Asian food. During recent years, it has also started importing fruit from Central and South American countries.

In Iqbal, over the past few years, regulars have ordered certain types of fruit to be shipped to the store.

Mango is a particularly hot ingredient in Iqbal. Razek indicated that the store will sell fruit palate (160 cans of mango) during the weekend.

“Colombia sugar mangoes are very popular because of their sweetness,” Razek said.

Guava is also popular in the market, which needs to be stored regularly due to customer demand.

“In the spring months you will see a mountain of guavas from Egypt. After this season is over, we bring guavas from Mexico, then from Pakistan.”

Korean curly watermelon is popular at First Choice Supermarket in Markham.  It is a shiny yellow oblong fruit with flesh that tastes like a symphony of pear and cantaloupe with frequent banana and cucumber leaves.

As a buyer of produce, Rizk’s weekly routine is to tour the food court and the shops of his suppliers to see what seasonal fruits he can get. Whether it is kinnow mandarin from Pakistan, or java plums (jamun) from parts of India.

The production department turns up weekly as Razek and his team rearrange the sections with fruit crates.

“This year it seems even the biggest grocery stores are realizing there is an appetite for this unique fruit,” Razek said.

Another goldmine for fruit in the spring is the Sunny Mart in North York. The produce section is often balloons of citrus species that are regularly flown in from Taiwan that sometimes dot the entrance and into the lobby of the plaza.

You’ll find boxes of fresh mangosteen from Vietnam, at least half a dozen guava species from the Middle East and Southeast Asia. There are, of course, entire sections of mangoes, and even some highly acclaimed apples from Japan, each neatly wrapped in colorful tissue paper.

“Marketing the fruit partly as a neat thing, but it also keeps the skin from getting bruised,” said Simon Chen, manager of the Hot Spicy Restaurant located in the same square as the Sunny Mart.

Outside the city limits, in Markham, there are more opportunities to experience the bounty of seasonal fruit.

Musk melons, pictured here at Freshway Supermarket, are given high fruits for their rich, intense watermelon flavor, as a result of melon growers pruning trees to the point where only the fruit is sometimes allowed to ripen.

First Freshway Supermarket. The sprawling Markham supermarket is a hot spot for its massive selection of fruits from different parts of Asia. There were at least six types of watermelons from Korea, Japan and Taiwan Recent visit.

The Korean curly watermelon is especially popular – a bright yellow, oblong fruit with flesh that tastes like a symphony of a pear and cantaloupe with frequent banana and cucumber leaves.

There is also a First Choice supermarket. Recently, I discovered an entire section there dedicated to the Aksu Fiji apple, a different type of Fiji apple grown in Aksu, Xinjiang. It is prized for its smooth fleshy center and sweet, semi-sugar flavour.

Next to the apples were cans of individually packed musk melon. The melons were not visible, and they were carefully guarded to prevent curious fingers from causing bruises on the outside. These watermelons are usually rare, but I’ve seen them in a few places this year.

A few years ago it was only available at some of the best Japanese omakase places in town, which served up a thick slice for dessert. When you scoop into one, it feels like you’re making a spoonful of syrup, with a strong watermelon flavor that lingers for several moments.

What’s next for imported fruits in GTA?

As the season continues and temperatures change, Razek said he will start bringing in distinctive fruits from northern Mexico. “My job is not just to fill the shelves, but to get something new and interesting every week.”

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2022-06-04 11:15:56

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