The jackfruit currently for sale in Chinatown is of the soft and sweet variety, and hence probably better eaten raw, possibly with a little brown sugar.
The improvised vegetable and fruit stands on the streets of Chinatown are always revamping their selection according to what is currently available locally, nationally, and internationally, with an eye toward the exotic. They are generally located in high traffic areas, and, contrary to what you might expect, often purvey higher-quality — and hence more expensive — produce. Yet the rule remains that, when you buy it on the street, you should assume it’s ripe right now, and that it ought to be used immediately.
Despite what seems like a low price for jackfruit, remember that only a small portion of the fruit is edible.
My favorite of these vegetal encampments is the one around the corner of Canal and Mulberry, usually consisting of five or six stalls on either side of Mulberry. Just yesterday they were highlighting fresh red lychees, in the usual $7 or $8 per pound on-the-stem format. But they were also selling some outsize lychees at $12 per pound, not on the stem, and bigger than I’d ever seen before. But the thing the keeper of one of the stalls seemed proudest of, and the thing that attracted the most admiring glances from passersby, was the fresh jackfruit.
Normally, jackfruit comes in a can or in frozen form. It can be used in all sorts of savory applications, making it more a cousin of the potato than the pineapple, though some say it tastes similar to unripe bananas or green mangoes. The plant is native to the rain forests of India, but has been widely distributed around the world. It is considered a staple in Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi cooking, and is also often eaten in Thailand and Jamaica.
Fresh lychees, stems on, are also available.
The ripe jackfruit can be eaten raw with sugar, or cooked into a curry, of which you will find many recipes online. There are several jackfruit varieties, some with hard flesh and some with soft flesh. Obviously, the harder-fleshed types cook up better as curries. There are even some curry recipes in which the fruit is used in raw form.
In Jamaica, jackfruit is most often eaten plain and raw, and here is a rather charming video showing how to prepare it (apparently only the very inside is eaten there).
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 6, 2011