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An Ode to Dried Fruit, Vietnam's Parent-Approved Way for Children to Sugar Load

I first knew dried fruit as a category of munchy snacks that had my parents’ approval.

As a child, like many others, I loved junk food, especially crispy potato chips. My parents weren’t fond of me consuming ultra-processed snacks with through-the-roof salt levels, but they couldn’t forbid me as I usually bought them at school. Instead, they devised a tactic to encourage me not to eat junk food: they bought dried fruit.

Parent-approved snacks for chip-addicted teens.

The water content can be removed from fruits via various methods that have been employed worldwide for thousands of years. One of the most globally famous examples is raisins, which are common here, particularly as Tết snacks.

There are two common types of dried fruit: air-dried and freeze-dried. While both types maintain the fruit’s sweet flavor, they differ in texture. Air-dried fruit is crunchy, while freeze-dried fruit is soft and chewy. To relate them to other snacks, one could say that air-dried fruit tastes like potato chips with the sweetness of candy, while freeze-dried fruit is akin to an organic version of gummy candy.

A mosaic of suspiciously colorful dried fruit at Bình Tây Market. Photo by Alberto Prieto.

My personal favorites are air-dried jackfruit, mango and banana. I already like them in their original form and their yellowish hue reminds me of potato chips. Even though dried fruit didn’t completely replace my craving for crispy junk food as they lack the extreme saltiness of potato chips, they are not without their charm.

Dried fruit reaches its maximum appeal during a road trip. Sitting in a vehicle and watching the scenery drift past for long hours can make anyone peckish. And on journeys like this, by minibus or a large coach car with other passengers, one doesn’t often get to stop for a meal according to one’s own schedule. Food options become limited and nibbling on junk food in a moving car can irritate one’s digestive system. Dried fruit becomes a much safer snack choice in such situations.

Who's salivating just looking at these?

When preparing for a trip, my family typically pours many types of dried fruit into one or two large bags to share. When we arrive at a rest stop along the way, we take some time at the shops to buy new and interesting dried local fruits. As we get closer to our destination, our bags of dried fruit become more colorful and diverse, saving us from the boredom of sitting in place for hours on end.

When we arrive at our destination and enjoy a splendid trip, we often seek to bring back some souvenirs as a way for us to remember the fun trip and also to share as gifts with our friends who didn’t join. In a country as bio-diverse as Vietnam, surely we’d love to bring some fresh fruits home, but that can be a great challenge. Many of us have experienced the disappointment of bringing back fresh strawberries purchased from Đà Lạt, only to find that they’ve become squished and rotten by the time we get back to Saigon, for example.

Dried seafood and fruit ready to become road trip snacks.

Because dried fruit has a long shelf-life, it is an easy and tasty travel souvenir. My family often receives bags of locally sourced dried fruit from our relatives after major Vietnamese holidays when everyone ventures out of town. And during my school days, when classes resumed after the two-week Lunar New Year break, we usually brought in jars of local fruit snacks to secretly munch on during class time, savoring a hint of holiday adventures.

Aside from being a parent-approved snack, dried fruit is also a tasty archive of the places we’ve explored. If you experience post-vacation blues and want to retell the fond moments of your journey to someone, sharing a bag of dried fruit is a great way to open a conversation that includes travel stories.

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