Part of the reason I love writing about international food is the thrill of discovery. I can walk into any one of the airplane-hangar-size Asian supermarkets in the area and feel as if I’m a 9-year-old skipping into Disneyland for the first time. A new pleasure may be just around the corner.
Like this past weekend at the H&A Supermarket in Langley Park, where I was formally introduced to the ya pear. It’s apparently the start of ya pear season in China, where the fruit, also known as the Chinese white pear, has been cultivated for more than 2,000 years.
Nothing like coming late to the party, eh?
To be fair, the ya pear has been allowed into the United States only since the late 1990s. It has also made inroads in Australia, where the fruit apparently has not fared well. According to a two-year-old story in the Weekly Times, the ya pear “had not been popular with consumers, with sales falling in every year after an initial surge” in 1999, when the fruit was introduced Down Under.
Perhaps that is not surprising. Consumers want local produce, not something shipped from thousands of miles away, no matter how exotic or delicious.
But is the ya pear delicious? I sliced up one for the Food team during our weekly Tuesday meeting. The fruit is certainly easy on the eye: Its skin is a creamy pale yellow (don’t let the Instagram image above fool you!), with lots of beige freckles. The stem looks as if someone broke off a fireworks punk in the fruit. The flesh is firm — and will apparently remain that way, since, according to this document, ripe Asian pears “do not soften.”
The Food tasters were not exactly enthusiastic about the flavor of the ya pear, which might explain its decreasing popularity in Australia.
One taster described the flavor as “grassy.” She later called it a “water ball” for its abundance of juices but mild flavor. Another person said it was “more of a texture thing,” given the flesh’s applelike mealiness. A third taster simply wanted more sweetness. Personally, I liked the low-grade sweetness (though not the texture, which become rougher the closer that I got to the core).
How best to use the ya pear? I’m not sure I would use one for a salad, unless I paired it with other fruits. I don’t think it would be sweet enough to counter bitter greens. But given the ya pear’s firm texture, I think it might be the perfect fruit for these Asian Tacos, providing some crisp notes.
Some other recipe suggestions for ya pears: