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We Should Offer Gỏi Măng Cụt a Full-Time Position in Saigon's Food Scene

The mangosteen salad trend hit TikTok in 2023, creating a demand that led locals to quit their jobs and take on more lucrative full-time fruit-peeling duties.

But trends always taper off, and then the question now becomes whether the item will disappear or remain, albeit in a less-popular, but more stable form, as happened with khô gà and cà phê muối. Mangosteen season is back, so it’s time to answer that question: should mangosteen salad become an enduring part of Saigon’s food landscape each summer?

The most acclaimed mangosteen salad spots are in Bình Dương, where the fruits are grown. We contemplated the two-hour round trip, but then calculated the cost per word of this article and instead looked closer to home. Delivery-only options in Saigon abound, but because we are beholden to aesthetics and feared a bike journey would yield wilted, sloppy, soggy salads, we continued searching. We finally found a vegetarian restaurant, Be An. The standard rendition of the dish involves shredded boiled chicken, so we paused, but the poultry is never the best part; why not judge it based on its vegetarian version?

Mangosteen salad is simple. Because the fruit hasn’t ripened fully, once peeled, they can be sliced into cross-sections that retain a delightfully graceful star shape. They are joined by cilantro, carrots, purple onions, peanuts and large shallots. Sugar, fish sauce and lime juice add a welcome moistness that helps bind the ingredients together. The star is of course the unripe mangosteen, which is not nearly as sugary as when mature, but adds a wonderfully pleasant floral softness. It’s a refreshing salad for the warm weather of the season. 

I enjoyed the vegetarian version more than the chicken one I had last year. Chicken flesh texture can be inconsistent and doesn’t mesh with the mangosteen as well as the tofu. And the flavor isn’t a natural match either. It’s almost as if the meat dish is a song that features a saxophone and an electric guitar, both vying for the lead. Perhaps because we ordered this from a moderately expensive restaurant, the percentage of mangosteen in our salad vastly exceeded others I’ve had. And really, given the name and the price, the mangosteen should take center stage.

Verdict: mangosteen salad should become an annual menu staple (but please, don’t quit your day job to produce it). 

Savory fruit dish sidenote: Be An featured a wonderfully nuanced and umami-stocked braised jackfruit that furthers our belief that fruit can be a stellar salty meal ingredient. 

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