Postcards from China: Chinese Bayberry
Clarissa Wei Myrica rubra
Welcome to Postcards from China, a series of delicious snapshots from my summer in China and Taiwan.
Location: Gulangyu, Xiamen
Item: Chinese Bayberry, or Yang Mei
Flavor: A cross between a strawberry and lychee.
And I thought Chinatown already had its fair share of exotic fruits. Head down to Canal Street near Mott and you'll find lychees, longans, rambutans, and if you're lucky, wax apples. I'd thought I'd seen it all between my annual visits to Taiwan and regular trips to the Chinese supermarket. So when our host family took out these fruits after our dinner for dessert, I was really confused.
Yang mei is a seasonal fruit that is in abundance around May and June. The texture is extremely unique. Think tiny individual strands of pulp around a seed. It tastes like a cross between a strawberry and lychee -- sweet with a subtle hint of sourness. Though the exterior is rough, you eat it whole. No shelling required. Yang mei has been cultivated in China for over 2,000 years.
An interesting legend surrounding the fruit: When the famous Chinese warlord Cao Cao and his troops encountered a water shortage in the desert, Cao Cao purposely told his troops that there were yang mei trees nearby (even though there weren't). The thought of the sweet and sour flavor of the berry caused his soldiers to salivate, which relieved their dry mouths and helped them move on.
The fruit can be found in the following Chinese provinces: Yunnan, Guizhou, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Fujian, Guangdong, Hunan, Guangxi, Jiangxi, Sichuan, Anhui, and Taiwan. I'm currently in the Fujian province and yang mei is everywhere. Old women carry around loads of the berries to sell on the streets and the fruit can be bought at nearly every produce market. They go for roughly $2 per kilogram.
The fruit is extremely rare in the states -- but word on the street is that a lot of high-end Japanese restaurants in the city incorporate it (called yamamomo in Japanese) in their dishes. You can get it, in the form of juice though. The company that sells it has renamed it "Yumberry," and markets it as a antioxidant power drink. The new P.O.M. perhaps?