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?