Tucked away in the heart of Little Saigon, in a strip mall on Bolsa near Magnolia Street in Westminster, are the most famous fruit sellers in OC's Vietnamese community. Come any Saturday morning, and you'll find a bevy of Vietnamese mothers and grandmothers jockeying to get the ripest jackfruit, rambutan, soursop, lychee and other "exotic" fruits from Southeast Asia and beyond. Purveyors sit shoulder to shoulder outside storefronts, beckoning customers to enter and buy their bounty before the specimens start to turn.
Probably the most stacked in terms of variety is Bà Tu Trái Cây Ngon run by Jacqueline Nguyen and her sister Rossie Cottreil, the second generation to helm the popular 11-year-old shop.
"My mom and dad always had this concept that there would be a lot of Vietnamese and Asian people coming to the United States and since it's hard to find tropical fruit here, we decided to open a store," Nguyen said.
According to Nguyen, these types of shops remind Vietnamese of being back at home, where fruit vendors can be found around every corner.
As you walk past the curb from the worn parking lot, smell the sweet musky funk of fresh jackfruit being hacked apart by one of the veteran fruit ladies. The massive spiny balls, each at various stages of maturity, sit proudly on display shelves as she portions the fruit pods into trays and containers for easy consumption.
Nguyen says that lychee, mangosteen, star apple, durian and rambutan are some of the most popular seasonal finds at her store. If you ask nicely, you can sample the fruit. Just look for her behind the counter past the hanging rack of Thai bananas.
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Here's the full seasonal spread right now: Pineapple, orange, tangerine, pomelo, grapefruit, coconut, green coconut, cherimoya, soursop, lychee, longan, rambutan, cherry, mango, baby mango, green mango, Thai banana, papaya, green papaya, dragon fruit, kumquat, kiwi, passion fruit, sapodilla, watermelon, jackfruit, durian, apple, star apple, persimmon, sugar cane, June plum, sand pear and mangosteen.
These fruit stores, however, may not be around in the near future, says Danny Vu, who runs his business out of Tien Phat Produce, a fruit shop just across the street from the Asian Garden Mall. With an increase in Asian supermarkets, the demand for premium priced exotic fruit isn’t as high.
"The older generation is what really sustains these fruit shops. By the time the next generation grows up, maybe these stores won't be able to survive," Vu said. "When I bring fruit home to my kids, like durian, they just won't eat it."
Bà Tu Trái Cây Ngon, 8920 Bola Ave., Westminster, (714) 894-5852