The papaya (from Carib via Spanish), is the fruit of the tree Carica papaya, in the genus Carica. It is native to the tropics of the Americas, and was cultivated in Mexico several centuries before the emergence of the Mesoamerican classic cultures. Nowadays, the papaya is also known as fruta bomba (Cuba), lechosa (Venezuela, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and the Dominican Republic), mamão, papaw (Sri Lankan English), Papol \ Guslabu (Tree melon – in Sinhalese ), pawpaw or tree melon, as well as tree melon (木瓜) in Chinese and đu đủ in Vietnamese.
The fruit is ripe when it feels soft and its skin has attained an amber to orange hue. The fruit’s taste is vaguely similar to pineapple and peach, although much milder without the tartness, creamier, and more fragrant, with a texture of slightly over-ripened cantaloupe.
There is nothing tastier than chilled, fresh papaya or đu đủ on a hot Saigon afternoon. Fruit vendors scattered around town sell it by the slice for 2,000 VND, while the whole fruit goes for about 6,000 VND per kilogram.
Sure, I’ve had fresh papaya in the states and canned ones in “tropical” fruit cocktail mixes, but the stuff I get in town tastes a million times better. I think it has something to do with the fact that the fruit is grown locally—fewer food miles makes for a finer product.
Although papayas are generally considered a sweet fruit, they really are quite versatile. One of my favorite savory preparations is goi đu đủ kho bo (green papaya salad with beef jerky).
There are a lot of things to love about living in Vietnam, but the availability of fresh, locally grown fruits ranks especially high on my list. Eating 5-a day is easy as pie.