Iâ€™m happy to have Tio Wally (long-time Me So Hungry reader) aboard to send in his eating adventures from across America. Here he is in Provo, Utah.
Greetings from Provo, Utah
N 40Â° 13.7581â€™ W 111Â° 39.7303â€™ Elev. 4528 ft.
Most people are familiar with cashew nuts. Some may even know of cashew butter. But it seems few know where cashews actually come from, how they grow. Fewer still may be aware that parts of the cashew tree is juiceable.
A short course (of course): Cashew nuts grow on trees. The â€œnutâ€ is not a nut but a seed. The seed protrudes from the bottom of the fruit of the cashew tree, the cashew apple. The cashew apple is know by a number of names: Star apple in English, Caju in Portugeuse, MaraÃ±on in Spanish. Ripe cashew apples resemble a red bell pepper, with the kidney shaped seed hanging out of the bottom.
I had no idea about any of this until I ran across a flavor of aguas frescas Iâ€™d never heard of before. Iâ€™d gone to El Mexsal, a Mexican/Salvadorian restaurant Iâ€™d spotted previously and they had MaraÃ±on on the drink menu ($1.99). I asked the server what it was and she kept saying â€œcashew.â€ Cashew juice? How the hell do you juice a cashew nut? So I asked if I could try it.
They werenâ€™t juicing the nuts/seeds but, rather, the fruit that produces them, the cashew apple. As it turns out cashew apples are used to make all kinds of stuff: liquor, wine, sodas, candy, syrup, jams and chutneys, preserves, etc. The ripe apples can be eaten raw or juiced, and the fruit contains over five times as much Vitamin C as an orange.
Like many aguas frescas, the maraÃ±on was sweet and mildly tangy, with a unique flavor that, though tropical tasting, is neither perfumy nor really exotic tasting. I read where it was compared to Passion Fruit but I didnâ€™t think it was anything like it. I wish I could describe it other than to say itâ€™s very, very good.
I discovered on the InterTubes that maraÃ±on is available in the States in most Indian stores as well as stores specializing in Central and South American products, usually as a concentrate. I wish Iâ€™d known about maraÃ±on before because Iâ€™d have looked for it, sought it out. Itâ€™s that good.
As for El Mexsal: As you can tell by the name itâ€™s a restaurant with a dual personality, offering a range of Mexican and Salvadoran specialties. I had a combination plate: Beef enchilada, Chile relleno and Beef tamale ($7.49). It was all very good. The tamale was fluffy and cakey the way banana-wrapped tamales tend to be. The relleno was a fresh chile in a fluffy batter, stuffed with lots of cheese. The beef enchilada was likewise quite good. Both the enchilada and the tamale were stuffed with classic desebrada, tender and succulent shredded pot roast.
El Mexsal was a great find, especially considering that itâ€™s located in one of the whitest of the white places in America. They have great food, great service, reasonable prices and, best of all, MaraÃ±on!
And so we roll.
El Mexsal Restaurant, 325 S. Freedom Blvd., Provo, Utah
Tio Wally pilots the 75-foot, 40-ton(max) land yacht SS Me So Hungry. He reports on road food from around the country whenever parking and InterTube connections permit.