Stealing Jackfruit in Luang Prabang

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If there’s one crime that suits my disposition better than others it’s stealing fruit. In England, harvesting fruit without permission is a sport fondly referred to as ‘scrumping’. It’s a right of passage. No stigma attached. Even the prime minister would be forgiven fruit-stealing proclivities so long as he atoned by lowering the tax on apple cider.

Here on the banks of the Mekong, in a country twice removed from the grassy orchards of Somerset, there’s every chance that scrumping is an offence punishable by more than just a slap on the wrists.

The fruit that has got me wondering whether it’s ever right to steal, is none other than the king of fruits, the mighty mighty jackfruit: big as an Ox and knobblier than granny’s crochet blankets. This one’s a beauty: the fruit is roughly wombat-size, irregular, oblong, kissed with black at its extremities, and anchored to the trunk by a stem as thick and sinuous as an umbilical chord. The tree has delivered one hell of a baby!

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Thai jackfruit for sale in the market in Jinghong, China

As I stand on the pavement overlooking the jackfruit tree I try in vain to check my desire to raid and pilfer, snatch and gorge. In all probability, I concede, I’m past the acceptable scrumping age.

I stand for so long that a guard emerges from his booth beside a nearby monument. The jackfruit signals me with its fruity pheremones. The guard looks over curiously. Meanwhile, I’m calculating the time it would take to leap to the foot of the tree, shimmy up, remove my knife from its sheath, slash the stem, catch the fruit (all the while avoiding the sticky white resin), descend the trunk without breaking an ankle, and run helter skelter into the undergrowth to devour it. The guard knows none of this. For all he knows I’m another flutie falang (foreigner) with more money than sense, and a penchant for evening strolls and river views.

It takes a massive exercise of restraint. I walk away.

The promontory has other attractions, other delights: trees so heavily laden with moss that they resemble giant wooly apes; golden wats with winged eaves; cafes where green coconuts lie mounded in wait of thirsty mouths; the ‘putt putt putt’ of slow boats swimming upstream; bamboo bridges where idlers stroll, their thoughts bent on a dinner devoid of stolen jackfruit, or stolen fruit of any kind.

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It takes a full half hour for the itchiness in my fingers to subside, and the upwelling of saliva in my mouth to drain away. The jackfruit in question will live to see another day. And my moral fibre will remain intact, hanging on by a thread…

You can’t walk quickly in Luang Prabang. Everything is against you – the heat, the humidity, the trance-like breeze, even the river, which won’t be outdone for laziness.

Onlookers could be forgiven for thinking me drunk, tottering from one side of the road to the other, following the logic of shade. The mango trees are the most generous shade-givers, the tamarinds close runners-up. Only the topmost branches of the tamarinds are still in possession of fruit. The bottommost branches have been stripped, the sticky brown flesh shaken and stirred into jugs of refreshing sour juice, or added to soups to puncture the sweet pillow of coconut milk.

I scan the ground below a fat old tamarind hoping it has been kind enough to drop a ripe pod for a hungry wayfarer. Nothing.

On Xatikhoumann Road I pass a screen of woven rattan where patties of glutinous rice cling for dear life. They’re destined for temples where they’ll join forces with banana leaves and marigolds in an offering of wholesome abundance.

The Buddha’s blessing sit deeply over the wats of Luang Prabang. The monks are serene. Their jackfruit trees well-endowed; 60 or 70kg of fruit hanging in green bunches from a single trunk. It’s months before they’ll reach their full glory. By then it will be wet season; the market will be flooded with delicious giants, neighbours vying to offload their excess fruits onto friends and relations. No reason to steal. Would I were here then!

French colonial style, Luang Prabang

French colonial style, Luang Prabang

zesty carambola, star fruit

zesty carambola, star fruit

Richie DJing at Utopia

Richie DJing at Utopia

Paul, Richie and Joe - 3 Norfolk lads - reunited in Luang Prabang

Paul, Richie and Joe – 3 Norfolk lads – reunited in Luang Prabang

Joe exploring Kuang Si Falls

Joe exploring Kuang Si Falls

farms on the way to the waterfall

farms on the way to the waterfall

hot rice-crepe rolls with crispy fried onion and peanut-chili dipping sauce

hot rice-crepe rolls with crispy fried onion and peanut-chili dipping sauce

milky-blue rock pools at Kuang Si

milky-blue rock pools at Kuang Si

enjoying the slow life

enjoying the slow life

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12 Comments

Filed under Architecture & Design, Culture, Food, Travel

12 responses to “Stealing Jackfruit in Luang Prabang

  1. Nan

    Nina I feel I am there with you. Wonderfully descriptive. I’m so pleased that one little Falang resisted scrumping. Much love Nan

  2. Holly

    You just made my night Sis! A lovely relaxing read, taking me on a journey away from my routine life. You are by far my favourite author. Thank you xxxx

  3. Rose

    Beautiful Nina, you, the jackfruit and your writing.- Rose

  4. We have a small jackfruit tree at our place Nina, producing enormous fruit right here in Gympie. You are more than welcome to scrump from our tree when you get back here to the Sunshine Coast. Love reading your travellogue. Rita

    • Nina Gartrell

      Consider it done! We’d be all too happy to relive you of a fruit or two, if you can spare them! Did you know that you can roast the seeds and eat them? Richie and I will be keen to propagate some trees from seed, so we’d be grateful to come and do some grafting or seed saving from any interesting trees you may have. Apparently the jackfruit seeds need to get in the earth within about two weeks of coming out of the fruit!

      I hope you are both well and that business is good.
      Thank you for sticking with us!
      X nina

  5. Kay

    Another lovely read, when is the book coming out, Kay xx

  6. hillary52

    Your post was very evocative. It brought back memories of my life as a child in Laos in 1962-1964., I only visited Luang Parabang once, but the photos of the Mekong reminded me of wonderful picnics we took along the riverbank closer to Vientiane.

  7. Lyn Langbein

    Beautiful descriptive writing a lovely way to start my day. Love your photos to. xx Lyn

  8. Lyn forwarded your beautiful blog to show me how amazing it is when a writer of your calibre publishes their travels. Our scrumping days were in Tasmania in 2011, there was oysters, blackberries, nectarines and apples (trees on the road) it was marvellous and we had blackberries for breakfast every day for weeks.
    Now we are about to start our travels in Europe. Enjoy every day, would love to travel the way you are

    • Nina Gartrell

      Avril,

      I’m so pleased that Lyn passed on the details of the blog to you. Thank you for joining Richie and I on our travels. We’re currently in Thailand seeking crewing positions to sail back to Australia, hopefully via Malaysia and Indonesia. We’ve heard a few success stories about ‘boat hitching’, so that’s the next challenge. Do let us know if you you hear of anyone seeking crew/nanny/cook for a boat voyage from southeast asia to east coast Australia.

      Your days of ‘scrumping’ in Tasmania sound very productive! I’d love to pay a visit to the southern isle. Still haven’t been there myself. Mum and Dad went a few years ago and had a brilliant time.

      Wishing you well for your travels in Europe,

      Warm regards,
      Nina

  9. Claire

    Am in love with your writing like everyone else….and takes me back too…thank you x BIG love to you both x

  10. Gerd and Kamala

    no fear of being bored ever on this eternal journey. always something new and original to delight us. namaste kamala gerd and lea

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