Shopping for produce (called “fruit and veg” in South Africa) is a tourist activity in itself.

You can buy produce at the grocery story here, just as you can in America. But it’s much more fun (and usually more economical) to shop at local fruit and veg markets. When I first arrived my favorite market was the Tyrone Fruiterers in Parkview, but Joe and I have since become regulars at Imapla Fruit and Veg in Northcliff.

Nectarines for sale at Impala.

Impala sells fruits, vegetables, and a few other specialty products like pasta and locally made jam. The man in charge, a jolly guy named Frank, takes fruit and veg seriously. Even in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, his store is busy and he’s answering questions left and right from his customers.

Frank in the melon aisle at Impala.

It’s not only the markets themselves that are different from what I’m used to — it’s the products being sold. Before I came here I had never heard of a baby gem squash (a golf-ball-sized zucchini) or a pawpaw. (Pawpaw is South African for papaya. I knew what a papaya was before I moved to South Africa, but I had never bought one. As far as I know papayas aren’t available at grocery stores on the East Coast of the U.S., although Wikipedia says pawpaws are native to North America. I’m not sure what this is about and your insight is welcome.)

I’d heard of litchis before I came to South Africa. In my mind they were vaguely similar to water chestnuts — white, firm, canned, and served in Asian restaurants. It turns out that a litchi (also spelled lychee) is a fruit — of Chinese origin but also cultivated in South Africa. They’re in season now and all over the fruit and veg markets in Joburg. Joe finally bought a packet and I ate my first one yesterday.

This is the packet of litchis with the plastic removed. I love that there was an actual litchi leaf included with the fruit. (This and the rest of the photos are courtesy of Joe.)

Joe instructed me to peel off the skin. It’s sort of coarse and prickly.

After getting the first layer off, there was another thin film below. Beneath that, a gelatinous white mass that Joe compares to a quail’s egg. It reminds me of an eyeball.

Down the hatch.

The texture is a bit weird at first. You can’t swallow it right away because there is a pit (or “pip” in South African) inside.

Litchis are sweet and, as Wikipedia says, delicate and perfume-flavored.

Sucking the last of the fruit from the pip.

Done and ready for another.

Pineapple season is just beginning and I’ll be cutting my first whole pineapple next week. Wish me luck.

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