Ever Heard of Sohphie?

The small basket with green and red roundish-oval fruits on my desk was everybody’s object of curiosity that day at office. My colleagues were intrigued as they had never seen fruits like these before. With subtle warnings of the extreme sourness and tanginess of the fruits, I encouraged everyone to try them. “Start with the red ones, they are less sour compared to the green ones,” my valuable tip to everyone. I had also kept a small bowl containing a mixture of salt and red chili powder to counter the tanginess of the fruits – that’s how we usually eat the raw fruit.

The reactions evoked by the fruits as people popped them into their mouths was priceless – squeezed eyes, numbed tongues and near chattering teeth. A colleague captured every single person’s reaction as Boomerang video clips making the fruit-tasting activity into a laughter exercise for all.

These green and red fruits are exotic and unique fruits from Meghalaya, locally known as ‘Sohphie Bah’ and ‘Sohphie Nam’ respectively.

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The green Sophie – ‘Sohphie Bah’. Note the mixture of salt and red chili powder in the top right.
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The red Sohphie – ‘Sohphie Nam’

If you are in Shillong during the months of April through July, it is hard to miss these attractive and colorful fruits in cane baskets sold by roadside vendors almost everywhere. If you don’t have a tongue that can appreciate tanginess and sourness, this fruit is definitely not for you. I once prodded a friend from Bangalore to try them and the poor girl landed up with tiny blisters inside her mouth.

Sohphie (‘Soh’ meaning fruit is Khasi) marks the arrival of spring in Meghalaya and lasts through the summer but the fruit has a very short shelf life of just 2-3 days. The scientific name for Sophie Bah, the green variety, is Myrica esculenta and that of Sohphie Nam, the red variety, is Myrica nagi. Belonging to the Myricaceae family, these fruits grow all over Khasi, Jaintia and Garo Hills. Variants of the fruit are also found in other places of the Himalayan region at altitudes of 1,300-2,000m.

Enriched in phytochemicals, Sohphie has several medicinal properties. Rich in Vitamin A and C, Sohphie is anti-allergic, anti-diabetic, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory. The bark of the tree is used as an aromatic, a stimulant, an astringent, and as an antiseptic in indigenous medicines. It is also used to cure asthma, fever, chronic bronchitis, lung infections and toothache. The leaf and roots are used in indigenous medicines to treat worms and jaundice.

The fruit is not only relished raw but used to make pickles and jams. Sometimes you’ll find the pickles being sold by roadside vendors, where you needn’t buy the entire jar but they give you some in a piece of paper to be devoured then and there. Now, the very thought of that makes my mouth water and I want some right away!

By the way, have you heard of Tree Tomatoes? Read here.
Some Other Exotic Fruits From Meghalaya

Sohiong (Prunus nepalensis)

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Pic credit: explorers.zizira.com

Sohiong, which literally means ‘black fruit’ in Khasi, are delightfully rounded, marble-like, purple coloured fruits. These seasonal fruits are available only for a very short period – from late August till mid-October. Rich in nutrients and antioxidants, this fruit can be eaten raw though the jams, desserts, and wines made from the fruit are more popular. The raw fruit leaves behind a stain of deep purple on the lips and tongue. As kids, we would paint our lips purple and play grown-ups wearing lipstick. And that used to be our primary reason for relishing Sohiong. Nostalgic! The colours can be extracted to make natural edible food colours too.

Sohshang (Eleagnus khasianum)

Sohshang The Scrappy TravellerIt’s weird but Sohshang just reminded me of Barbie dolls. Perhaps it’s the somewhat transparent light pink colour with minute white dots all over it. These oval-shaped pulpy fruits are again seasonal and available only during March and April. They are a rich source of vitamin C and minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus. Sohshang is eaten raw as well as pickled.

Sohphlang (Flemingia vestita)

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‘Soh’ means fruit in Khasi and ‘Phlang’ means grass. Whether Sohphlang is a fruit or a vegetable is perhaps debatable as it is actually a tuber. This pale white, shapeless fruit/vegetable is somewhat unattractive as compared to the other fruits and berries of this region. Rich in phosphorus and proteins, it has a crunchy taste. It can be eaten raw or cooked and is available from October to May.

 

 

Ever Heard of Tree Tomatoes!

Tree tomatoes or Tamarillos made an appearance in my Bangalore home last week. This juicy, sweet, and citric fruit had managed to escape my memory altogether. No clue how that happened, given that Tamarillos belong to those exotic category of things that I intrinsically associate with my hometown, Shillong.

Naturally, I was delighted to spot them spread out on the floor along with several other vegetables including Chayote and neatly pieced Pumpkin.

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Pic 1: The reddish orange Tamarillos peeping through Chayote and Pumpkin

All of these had travelled a distance of about 3000 Km. all the way from the hills of North East India to the Deccan Plateau in South India. Strange, you may think, but such a thing is common when my parents come visiting me.

My disapproval in the past regarding the uselessness of carrying additional baggage has had no effect on them especially my father, who takes great pride in displaying the produce of his kitchen garden. I have since made peace and if this gives them pleasure so be it.

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Pic 2: The egg-shaped ripe Tamarillo

This time my parents were surprised with my enthusiasm over their extra baggage, which was only because of those reddish-orange oval fruits. [I have no clue whether to classify it as a vegetable or a fruit. I believe technically it’s a fruit but known as a vegetable.]

Back home, we also refer to tree tomatoes as Anda-Begun, which literally translates as ‘egg-eggplant’. Not surprising, afterall it’s a close relative of tomato, eggplant, and capsicum.

I am not sure many people in India are aware of this unique fruit and hence this post.

Ripe tree tomatoes have a smooth and shiny skin. The colour varies from red to yellow to deep mauve. Some even adorn dark longitudinal stripes.

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Pic 3: Aren’t they gorgeous!

The flesh is juicy and filled with many small flat, circular edible seeds. The taste is flavorful, sweet yet tangy, and the texture is somewhat similar to the usual tomatoes but pulpier. Tamarillo has a high content of Vitamin A and C.

Google says Tamarillos or Cyphomandra betacea are a subtropical fruit, thought to have originated in the high altitude Andes forests of Brazil and Peru. Surprisingly, Tamarillos have disappeared from their native habitat and happen to be listed among the lost foods of the Incas, known as the ‘tomate de arbol’. It was in 1967 that tree tomato got the commercial name of Tamarillo, which was to avoid confusion with the common garden tomato.

In India, tree tomatoes grow between elevations of 1,000 and 7,500 ft. Hence, their occurrence in places like Assam, Meghalaya, Uttaranchal, Nagaland, and Himachal Pradesh is understandable. They are also found in certain hilly pockets of West Bengal, Maharashtra, and in the Nilgiri hills of the South India. The latter did make me wonder as to why I never saw the fruit in Bangalore.

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Pic 4: The mouthwatering Tamarillo Chutney

At home, we usually prepare Tamarillos as a chutney and serve with rice or roti as a side dish. The chutney can be refrigerated and consumed between 10 – 12 days. We have also used Tamarillos in preparing fish, which surely must be attributed to my Bengali lineage!

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Pic 5: Here’s the recipe for you