How China (and My Chinese Husband) Helped Me Love Grapes & Other Fresh Fruit

(Photo by Prerak Patel via Flickr:
(Photo by Prerak Patel via Flickr:

It was day five of my hospital stay and I was just beginning to overcome the biggest hurdle of having my appendix removed – eating food again.

The previous day, I had struggled through the bowls of rice porridge delivered to my room. Not even adding a pinch of salt made me excited about them (though, really, rice porridge isn’t exactly the sexiest food to begin with).

Most of the bowls ended up sitting half-eaten (or hardly touched) on my hospital tray, making the nurses worry about whether I was getting enough nutrition.

Honestly, I was just worried about whether I could get anything down my throat.

But on day five, my husband changed the whole game with one question – how about some grapes?

Now let’s talk grapes for a minute. Personally, they’ve never rated in my mind as a luscious, sexy kind of fruit. In fact, they were downright boring to me. Growing up in America, I quickly tired of grape juice as a child and the ubiquitous grape jelly in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. While I did eventually warm up a bit to green seedless grapes, I wanted nothing to do with their red and especially dark purple counterparts. Dark purple reminded me of tasteless grape juice and bland grape jelly…basically, the worst stuff about grapes.

So when my husband mentioned grapes and held up that dark purple cluster, I almost rolled my eyes. He has to be kidding? I’m struggling to spoon up plain rice porridge and he wants me to nibble on one of my least favorite fruits?

But he insisted. “Try one, they’re good.”

My husband got me there. How could I argue with the most basic rule about eating? That you have to give everything a shot at least once – even those dodgy dark purple grapes.

So I picked one up and prepared myself for total fruit mediocrity — and the likelihood that I’d never eat any more grapes in China.

Oh, how wrong I was.

These were not grapes, folks. These were the dictionary definition of ambrosial, the true manna from the heavens that the gods themselves would feast upon. Each grape was bursting with a delightful tart sweetness that in America could probably only be found in the best artisanal grape juice. A flavor so thrilling I couldn’t help saying “mmmmmm” and “ahhhhhhhh” with each bite.

Now this was sexy fruit.

“Oh my god, how have I missed this about grapes my whole life? These are amazing!”

A smile played across my husband’s lips – more out of surprise towards me than the fruit. “These taste a lot like most of the grapes I’ve had.”

Suddenly, I was so shocked I almost dropped the grape in my hand. How was this possible? How had my husband had the “in” on amazing grapes his whole life, while I had been given the sorriest excuses for grapes in America?

While these grapes had been the most dramatic example, the truth is I’ve found a LOT of fruit in season tastes better here in China than the US. Apples. Bananas. Mandarin oranges. Peaches. Pineapples. Mangos. Even kiwi fruit, which grows wild in the mountains in my husband’s hometown and tastes a thousand times better than anything I ever bought in a US supermarket.

And I’m not alone in realizing China’s fruit is so delicious, as Huan Hsu noted in his memoir The Porcelain Thief:

Fruit is China’s apple pie. Dessert in China most commonly takes the form of a plate of fresh-cut fruit. The phrase for “consequently” or “result” in Chinese is jieguo, or “bear fruit.” Even the humblest fruit shack in china offers dragonfruits with flaming petals and pink or bloodied flesh, like a sweeter, milder kiwi; strands of purple grapes, plump as roe and bursting with intense, bubblegum flavor; or crispy, refreshing starfruit. The native kiwis, known as Chinese gooseberries before New Zealand farmers rebranded them, are sweeter and more pungent than their exported counterparts. Bowling-ball-sized pomelos, like meaty fragrant grapefruits, whose rinds my grandmother used to fashion into hats for her children. Mangos of all kinds, from the small champagne varietals to the leathery giants named “elephant horns.” Lychees, grown in southern China and quick to spoil, but the taste so ethereal that one emperor supposedly uprooted an entire tree and had it shuttled back to Beijing in horse carts. Sacks of tiny sha tang ju, aptly named “sugar mandarins,” that I peeled and ate whole, a dozen at a time.

It’s funny that it took moving to another country and marrying into another family to discover just how blissful a good bunch of grapes could be. To make me realize that when grapes are at their freshest and sweetest, they could even be one of my favorite fruits.

Have you rediscovered fruit or other food after moving abroad?

16 Replies to “How China (and My Chinese Husband) Helped Me Love Grapes & Other Fresh Fruit”

  1. 😀 There are some fruits worse in China than in Poland: cherries, apples and raspberries, blueberries and a lot of other berries 😀 But I agree, the REAL taste of bananas, pomelos, pineapples, mangoes and so on I discovered right after I came to China 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment! Yes, it’s true that not every fruit tastes great here — but so many more taste far superior over here that I feel like I’ve rediscovered many great fruits (as well as new favorites).

  2. i agree with you, China fruits are delicious. my husband bought bunches of grapes,oranges,tomatoes and bananas during my stay and they were all delicious. including the lychees and kiwi. too much of them that i baked a cake using the fruits such as the orange as the flavor of the cake and as well made the cake design using the fruits. 🙂

  3. could it be that the fruits are fresh and that’s why they taste so good ???
    someone i know went to Hawaii for vacation and said the pineapple there taste a lot better than the ones here in Canada. We both agreed that it is probably because it was fresh in Hawaii, by the time it gets to Canada, it no longer has the aroma of freshness. same as the Philippine mango we have here, it is just not the same taste as the ones i have in Hong Kong.

    1. Hi gordon, thanks for the comment! I agree, I think the freshness does make a difference over here. Also, it seems like people are more likely to stick to fruit that’s in season, which always tastes better too.

  4. Interesting! Fruit is very good and fresh in Spain, so I didn’t experience anything special with fruit in China. I did try some fruits that we don’t have in Spain, like waxberries, lychees, mangosteens, passion fruit…

    I did have a revelation similar to yours when I went to the Philippines. I had never liked mangoes, but I had never tried mangoes so sweet and delicious! Now I love them, but the ones I buy here as not as good as the ones I ate there.

    1. Thanks for the comment Marta! I’ll bet you have much better fruit in Spain than I’ve come across in America, which might account for our different perspectives. Nice that you rediscovered mangoes in the Philippines!

  5. Ha, I felt the same way the first time I had a tomato from the farmer’s market instead of the grocery store: “THIS is a tomato? Where have you been keeping this all my life?!” American supermarket fruits are terrible — picked early, refrigerated, mass produced, etc.

    Little wine grapes from the farmer’s market are also amazing. 🙂

  6. Delicious grapes! I can absolutely relate to this experience. Not that I didn’t like grapes before coming to China, but they just didn’t taste the same. The fresh grapes locally grown here are heaven!

    I haven’t really rediscovered any fruits after moving to China. Maybe discovered new fruits like mangoes or pomelo. Personally I am more disappointed with the variety of local products. The reason might simply be the location we live in. I really really love strawberries and cherries, but you can’t get cherries here. Ever. And strawberries only are available in winter (which makes no sense to me at all!). Also I find the locally grown tomatoes and cucumbers tasteless. To make more money and avoid fruits and vegetables from getting spoilt before they can sell them, most farmers here harvest them half ripe. So you end up with green tomatoes or green peaches in supermarkets… results: they taste like nothing…

    But one of my favorite local produce, even though it’s not a fruit, is corn 😀 My mother-in-law plants corn just for me every year. Selling it would bring in no money, so she just plants enough for me to eat. The best time of the year. I can live on corn haha

    1. That’s interesting about the variety of local products where you live. Strawberries are also more of a winter fruit where we are, and while we do have local cherries here, they really aren’t that great.

      That is fascinating that you love the corn up where you live. I’m actually not a fan of the corn grown locally where we are. Maybe you guys have sweeter, tastier corn, b/c the stuff they have here is nothing compared to the sweet corn I used to enjoy in America.

      1. I still think its so strange tha strawberries are winter fruits here, with all the sun in summer it would be perfect for sweet strawberries.

        Our corn is the best I have ever tasted (even better than what you get in Germany). Its sweet and juicy! But I can say our tomatoes here are horrible… And we never get any fruits or vegetables that are not local or in season. Its an adjustment but also a healthy one I guess… eating only local produce that is in season.

  7. Thank you Marta. Yes,our Mangoes from my country taste real delicious. Hope you can once again visit my country,will definitely warm welcome you. 🙂

  8. I fell in love with the small green tomatoes I ate in China. Nothing in the U.S. compares. My father-in-law would buy some every day, and I would shamefully eat them up.
    I also love the Fuji apples and the lychees. I pass on the watermelon, though. =)

    I’m a new reader of your blog. I hope you are feeling better.

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