Living the Ice Cream Bean Dream

For the past 10 years, I’ve considered myself a fruit hunter. The type of person who travels around the world to try rare and exotic fruits. And being that I am The Fruit Adventurer, I have a list of fruits that it is my dream to try.

One of the fruits that has been on my fruit bucket list for a long time is the ice cream bean. So in the research I did leading up to my Guatemalan travels, I was so excited to read that they have the ice cream bean in Guatemala! Was this my chance to finally eat the ice cream bean?

The first few days of our trip had us chilling out in Antigua. I scoured Antigua’s markets, keeping my eye out for the ice cream bean. Sadly, it was nowhere to be found.

But luckily, as we pulled into San Pedro, on the shores of Lake Atitlan, I saw out of the corner of my eye the shell of a big, green bean on the ground. I knew the ice cream bean couldn’t be far away.

As we checked in, Maria at the front desk of our hotel gave us the lay of the land. “Oh and don’t forget,” she said. “Tomorrow is Sunday, market day in San Pedro.”

Bingo. On Sunday, we awoke to a gorgeous, sunny morning, and got ready to make a trek to the local market. We started the day off with breakfast at Cafe Las Cristalinas, a charming little restaurant with coffee plants growing right on the patio:

After breakfast, we climbed the hill into the local part of town. Right away, the hubbub of the market drew us in, and we were surrounded by vendors hawking household goods, meat, vegetables, and to my delight, an array of fresh, tropical fruit.

Within this feast for the eyes, I was searching for the coveted ice cream beans. And suddenly there they were, a mound of ice cream beans surrounded by a group of women picking through:

I watched the women for a couple of minutes to get a sense of what they were picking for. It looked like bright green, thicker beans is what they were going after.

Once I knew what I should be looking for, I jumped in and joined the throng, picking through the ice cream beans to get the best of the best.

After the market, we walked around the village square, enjoying the sites of San Pedro. Then we went for coffee at a lakeside cafe, and took in the stunning views of Lago de Atitlan.

There I had my first taste of ice cream bean. Fluffy white fruit, like cotton candy, that you eat off the seeds. It was very sweet and tasty, the fluff melting in my mouth, revealing a creamy, vanilla-like flavour with undertones of clover.

Finally, I was living the ice cream bean dream.

And I want you to live the ice cream bean too. So next post I will share with you where to find, and how to eat, this interesting fruit.

Cherimoya Pit Stop

“We had an abundance of fruit in Honolulu, of course. Oranges, pine-apples, bananas, strawberries, lemons, limes, mangoes, guavas, melons, and a rare and curious luxury called the cherimoya, which is deliciousness itself.” – Mark Twain

Four days after arriving in Guatemala, we decided it was time to move on from Antigua. We set our sights on Lake Atitlan.

Lago de Atitlan is a beautiful mountain lake, surrounded by volcanoes and dotted with small villages. Our major dilemma was deciding which village to stay in. We eventually settled on San Pedro, which was described in our guidebook as a laid back backpackers hub. It sounded like our kind of place, so we booked a shuttle and were on our way.

About two hours into the trip, the shuttle pulled into a gas station. Right away I noticed a young girl selling fruit. I hopped off the bus and made a beeline to check out the goods:

The fruit stand had strawberries, blackberries, mandarinas, oranges, granadillas and lemons. And if you can believe it, also for sale at this Guatemalan service station was what I consider a rarity, an exotic fruit called the cherimoya.

The cherimoya is a green, heart-shaped fruit with an outer skin that I can only describe as reptilian. The inner flesh is white and creamy. Also known as the custard apple, Mark Twain once called the cherimoya “the most delicious fruit known to men.”

Of course I just had to buy one. When I pointed to the cherimoyas, senorita helped me pick one that was very ripe and ready to eat. The fruit was quite soft and was giving off a strong, fruity odor. I couldn’t wait to eat it. However, I would have to be patient.

I got back into the shuttle, and after another hour on the road, we turned off the main highway and drove past a sign saying Bienvenidos al Lago de Atitlan (Welcome to Lake Atitlan). I thought we were almost there and that soon I would be eating my cherimoya.

No such luck. The road to San Pedro was so windy and pocked with potholes that it took two hours to get to San Pedro from the entrance point.

Finally, we pulled into San Pedro, welcomed by hippies selling bracelets and bbqing on the streets. Oh, and of course we were also welcomed by the stunning Lago de Atitlan:

We settled into our hotel, and at last I was able to eat my cherimoya. Using my trusty fruit adventurer tool kit (a small, sharp knife and a portable spoon) I cut the cherimoya in half to reveal the white flesh, dotted with black seeds:

I scooped the fruit out of each half with my spoon and ate the custardy treat, being careful to avoid the seeds:

It was very tasty indeed. Notes of pineapple, pear, banana and strawberry. Creamy texture. Super sweet, delicious, tangy custard taste. Almost like pineapple ice cream.

Eating the rare and exotic cherimoya, purchased from a gas station, was such a lovely exercise in contrast. I love Guatemalan pit stops. You can get a tank of gas, take a bathroom break and pick up some exotic fruit all in one place!

An Afternoon in Valhalla

After spending a couple of days in Antigua, Guatemala, I was beginning to long for a real fruit adventure. The kind of fruit adventure where you travel into the countryside to visit a farm or go trekking into the forest to find fruits growing in their natural environment.

I asked the front desk of my hostel if there were any fruit farms near Antigua, and they recommended Valhalla Experimental Station, a macadamia nut farm. I was told that Valhalla macadamia nut farm is a small, organic, sustainable operation that gives tours of the farm and lets you sample the nuts.

The lady at the hostel’s front desk said Valhalla was at most a 20 minute bus ride from Antigua. All we needed to do was take a chicken bus bound for San Miguel Dueñas and tell the driver “Las Macadamias.”

A macadamia nut farm is not exactly what I had in mind for a fruit adventure, but nuts are technically a fruit, and my interest was piqued at the possibility of venturing onto a chicken bus.

Guatemala’s chicken buses are decomissioned school buses, deemed unsafe by North American standards. Safety being less of a concern in Guatemala, the buses have been souped up and painted in bold colors to serve as the country’s public transit. I definitely wanted to experience a chicken bus before leaving Guatemala, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

We got to the bus station across from the market and I asked one of the bus drivers how to get to San Miguel Dueñas. He pointed at a blue and yellow bus named Dorita:

We boarded Dorita and I said to the driver “las macadamias por favor.” The driver nodded his head, and soon we were off.

The chicken bus bumped out of Antigua and onto a country road, while I sat nervously hoping that the driver would remember to stop at Valhalla. Sure enough, about 15 minutes into the ride, I heard the driver yell “las macadamias, las macadamias!” We hopped off the bus and headed towards the farm entrance, walking along a dusty pathway lined with macadamia trees and lush tropical vegetation.

When we arrived, we were greeted by a friendly staff member who offered to take us on a tour of the farm. First she showed us around the macadamia trees, and we saw the nuts in every stage of growth from flower, to fully ripe fruit ready to fall off of the tree:

Macadamia Flowers
Macadamia Fruit

Next, the tour took us to the farm machinery and we were given an explanation of the harvesting process. Once the macadamia nuts are picked, they must be husked, dried in the shell and sorted. Then they are cracked, sorted again, washed and then dried in the sun for several days:

Husking Machine
Sorting Machine
Macadamia nuts drying in the sun

The tour concluded with a sampling of the macadamia nut products, including hand cream, roasted macadamia nuts, and chocolate covered macadamia nuts.

I also indulged in the facial, which involved a lovely face massage using macadamia nut oil. Although complimentary, it is customary to tip the beautician:

Feeling relaxed and sporting a healthy glow from the facial, we proceeded to wander the grounds. We came across the most beautiful bathroom I have ever seen:

As we were scoping it out, we ran into Lorenzo, the owner of the Valhalla macadamia nut farm.  Lorenzo, a nutty American expat, talked our ear off, telling us about life in Guatemala and cracking all sorts of corny jokes.

As silly as some of the jokes were, one thing Lorenzo said has stuck with me: “If you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.” What a nugget of wisdom to be given in the middle of a Guatemalan macadamia nut farm. Lorenzo has definitely given me something to think about.

Finally, Lorenzo encouraged us to try the world famous pancakes, and so we proceeded to the Valhalla restaurant. The restaurant was open air, and situated in a beautiful garden. It was absolutely stunning:

As we waited for our pancakes, we enjoyed watching hummingbirds flit from flower to flower, and were treated to sounds of a volcano rumbling in the background.

The pancakes arrived, and they alone were worth the trip out to Valhalla:

Made with macadamia nut flour, and topped with macadamia nut butter, blueberries, crushed macadamias and honey, the pancakes were like nothing I’ve ever had before, and you will just have to go to Guatemala to try them.

With our bellies full and our heads bursting with new macadamia nut knowledge and Lorenzo’s wisdom, we waited by the side of the road for a chicken bus to take us back to Antigua. As one came around the bend, we waved it down, and like magic it stopped to pick us up. Much easier than having to locate a bus stop!

A trip to Valhalla is a wonderful ½ day trip to do from Antigua, Guatemala, and is a worthy fruit adventure. I highly recommend it.

How to get to and from Valhalla Experimental Station by chicken bus:

  • Head to the Antigua bus station, which is located just south of the Mercado de Artesanias (Artisans Market)
  • Take a bus going to San Miguel Dueñas
  • Tell the driver “las macadamias” and he will drop you off right at the entrance of the farm
  • To return to Antigua, simply go back to the farm’s entrance and stand by the edge of the road. When you see a chicken bus heading your way, wave your hand and the bus will pick you up.
  • The bus ride will cost 4 Quetzales each way

Granadilla, My New Favorite Fruit

The granadilla came into my life on Day 2 of The Fruit Adventurer family’s trip to Guatemala. We were sitting on a bench, eating ice cream in Antigua’s Parque Central. Vendors kept approaching us, pushing everything from jewelry, wooden flutes, scarves and textiles. We said “no, gracias” more times than we could count.

But then, a lady with a basket of fruit on her head approached us. You know me… I was into what she was selling. She had some oranges, but what I was really interested in was an orangy-green fruit shaped like an egg. I pointed to it, and she said “Si, granadilla.” I immediately entered negotiations and wound up with five granadillas for 5 Quetzales.

The fruit lady showed me how to eat the granadilla, and now I will share this fruity wisdom with you!

To eat a granadilla, you hit the granadilla over a hard surface to crack the shell, just like you would crack an egg:

You then pull open the outer shell to reveal an alien-looking mass of gelatinous seeds:

You slurp the seeds up out of the shell, and swallow the cool, sweet, jelly-like fruit:

And that is all there is to it!

After the lady showed me how to eat the granadilla, I followed suit. And I was in love. The granadilla is my new favorite fruit! It is a cool and refreshing treat on a hot day. It’s very portable and easy to eat, so it makes a great on-the-go snack. And best of all, it is sweet and delicious, tasting like a passionfruit without any of the sourness.

I don’t know if it was because I was now on a granadilla hunt, but I encountered them everywhere in Guatemala. In many ways, my trip to Guatemala was all about the granadilla. Whether I was enjoying city life in Antigua, relaxing by Lake Atitlan in San Pedro or climbing the Mayan ruins at Tikal, I was always eating a granadilla.

Now that I’m back home, I’m missing the granadilla like crazy. I have to get planning my next trip so that I can taste those cool, gelatinous seeds again.

Are there fruits that you miss when you are not traveling? Do you wish you could get your favorite fruits at home? Or is it better to keep them waiting for you in far off lands, as an incentive to travel? Let me know in the comments!

Nispero: A Fruity Surprise

The first thing I love to do when I arrive in a new place is to spend a day wandering around the city. On my first day in Guatemala, I wandered around Antigua, and I quickly stumbled upon a market. Being The Fruit Adventurer, markets are one of my favourite things to explore.

Well, this market seemed to sell mostly household items, electronics and handicrafts, so I was about to give up on finding any fruit. But then I saw it… The nispero. The nispero, known as the loquat in English, was a fruit I researched before heading off to Guatemala. So when I saw a bag of them sitting in a market stall full of phones, I recognized them right away.

Now, even though I recognized this fruit as nispero, I was a bit surprised, because they were much, much smaller than I was expecting them to be. Based on the pictures I saw of nispero beforehand, I had imagined that a nispero would be the size of an apple. Au contraire, they are actually more like the size of an apricot. And funnily enough, they were also of a similar colour to apricots, even though I was picturing a pale yellow fruit.

Taking the fruity surprise in stride, I bought a big bag of nispero for 5 Quetzales ($1 USD). Here I am with my prize, right before I headed back to my hostel to sample the goods:

Excited to try my first new fruit in Guatemala, I bit into a nispero, and a sweet, juicy, fruit taste flooded my mouth. Continuing on the apricot theme, the nispero actually reminded me of apricot, although I would say they are a little less tangy and definitely sweeter than an apricot.

Nisperos, or loquats, are a fruit I would absolutely recommend. If you are lucky enough to have them in your neck of the woods, give them a try, otherwise, look out for them the next time you travel to Guatemala!