Inspired by the vibrant produce of Chinatown vendors and fruit stands, we decided a couple of weeks ago that our next—and long-awaited—greenmarket cocktails post was going to include a few things that you just can’t get above Canal Street.
Fresh lychees, durian, jackfruit, longans, starfuit, rambutans, pomelos… The possibilities were both endless and overwhelming, much like a walk through Chinatown itself.
The neighborhood is a welcome assault to the senses—the smell of whole ducks roasting in restaurant’s windows, the sound of old men playing lutes in Columbus Park, the sight of colorful signage, still written in Chinese characters, and the taste, if you so desire, of a piping hot steamed pork bun from Mei Li Wah bakery. The cost: a mere 80 cents.
After hand-selecting a few curious ingredients, we immediately went to work, pairing them with spirits and other accoutrements.
The first item we bought was rambutan, a “hairy” fruit about the size of a golf ball, which grows throughout southeast Asia. Rambutan, which actually means hairy in Indonesian, is closely related to the lychee and the longan, also readily available on almost every Chinatown street corner.
After removing its hard outer layer, the fruit inside was gelatinous and mildly sweet. We paired it with our smokey Fidencio mezcal, a spirit that we matched up with gooseberries in a previous greenmarket cocktail.
We muddled two peeled and pitted rambutans with a 1/2 ounce of lemon, a 1/2 ounce of simple syrup and 2 ounces of mezcal.
Smoke In Thailand, named after rambutan’s origins and the drink’s appearance, was our favorite cocktail of the bunch, combining the mild sweetness of the rambutan with the more bold and nuanced flavors of the mezcal. The lemon added a bright citrus kick that punched up the flavors all around.
Our next ingredient likely isn’t foreign to anyone, but young coconuts are ubiquitous down in Chinatown and also contain tasty, unbeatably fresh coconut water—enough reason for us to purchase a few for use in cocktails (and for everyday drinking).
Unlike their rotund brown elders (which don’t contain much water), young coconuts are green and sold peeled and cut into a conical shape. Most vendors will hack off the top for you and give you a straw, so you can sip the fresh water directly from the coconut as you walk around.
We mixed a bit of fresh coconut water with 1 1/2 ounces of Ocucaje pisco, a Peruvian grape brandy, a 1/2 ounce of fresh lime juice and a 1/2 ounce of maraschino liqueur. Shake, strain and serve in a Collins glass, topped with club soda.
This drink—the Silver Lining, as we’re calling it—was strikingly beautiful, but also a pleasure to drink. Pisco added an interesting component and the coconut water made it dangerously sippable.
(We’ve since used the leftover water to make our own coconut sodas with club soda and simple syrup.)
The last ingredient in our bag was dragon fruit. This stunningly beautiful fruit is actually from the cactus family and immediately reminded me of the prickly pear cacti that dot desert landscapes.
We were in for an incredible surprise once we cut into the magenta-hued fruit, though. Removing the fruit’s skin revealed a snowy white flesh, dotted with tiny black seeds. The fruit was incredibly mild to taste and I was immediately concerned that it might be overwhelmed in a cocktail.
Luckily, I was completely wrong. We muddled the tender fruit with a 1/2 ounce of lime, a 1/2 ounce of simple syrup, a 1/2 ounce of Carpano Antica sweet vermouth and 1 1/2 ounces of Plymouth gin. Maybe now you understand why I was concerned.
But, like I said, it was completely unfounded. This drink, a Dragon’s Tail, turned out creamy, sweet, and more like a milkshake than a cocktail. The once subdued fruit was now a key player in a litany of strong flavors—Carpano Antica and Plymouth are no slouches—but yet everything still played nicely together.
Our favorite aspect of this group of cocktails was the astounding (and honestly unexpected!) contrast between the brightly colored fruits and the monochromatic drinks they created. What they lacked in color, they made up for in flavor though.
If you don’t have your very own Chinatown, don’t fret; you don’t need to buy a plane ticket to New York City (or to Asia) to experiment with these fruits. There’s likely an Asian supermarket in or near your town with some of these unique ingredients (and probably many more undiscovered ones, just waiting for your creativity).