At this time of year, Chile is at its fruit-yielding prime, with cherries and strawberries leading the way, peaches and plums dropping in price. And nestled among the more well-known fruits is one of my favorites, the níspero. (NIECE-per-oh)
Nisperos, called loquats in Chinese (and by some English speakers), or the Japanese medlars are one of my favorite of fruits available in the region, and they only last a couple of weeks before the season is out. They mostly appear throughout the month of December, and since they’re both only available for a short amount of time and a bit pricier than the other fruits, we usually get them just a couple of times per season.
They look a bit like apricots at the market, but are slightly more tear-drop shaped, and have a fig-like ending from where they are pulled from the trees. The flesh is softish, close to that of a melon, and there are two to four chestnut-colored large seeds inside. You can eat the skin, but many people prefer to pull it off, making it a messy experience. They’re sweet, mildly acidic and very refreshing. I’d seen them in other countries before (Guatemala, if memory serves), but with worries about eating fruit straight from the market in Central America, I had never dared to eat them. They’re originally from Japan, though I don’t know how readily available they are there.
The trees are evident around the city if you know what you’re looking for, and abound in nearby Valparaíso (where the fruits are often too far off the ground to reach) and to a lesser extent in Viña del Mar. I recently noticed that the trees are in many yards in San Francisco, California, but was there during the off season, so I don’t know when they come into bloom and then fruit.
Get out there and enjoy some nísperos while the getting’s good. Soon they’ll be out of season and you’ll have to switch to canteloupe and honeydew and stone fruit and all of the other delicious fruits Chile has to offer.
Coming soon: buying fruit in the market. Useful vocabulary.