Sitting in my grandmother’s cramped Humbolt Park apartment, I remember being completely uncomfortable. Sweating on the hot plastic sofa covers, nervously darting my eyes back and forth, hoping to escape the terrified scurries of what we liked to call “Grandma’s Pets” AKA roaches. I hated visiting my father’s side of the family. Not only was I trying to avoid the building’s resident insects, but grandma was old school; no juice with your food. To a kid, that’s just nasty. I needed something to wash down that spicy Latin food!
That Saturday, we were gathered to welcome my uncle to Chicago after living in Puerto Rico all his life. I’d never met him, but “family” is extremely important to my father – it’s a Latino thing – so we all had to be there.
When he arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to see that he had gifts for the kids! Awesome – what kid doesn’t want presents?! Immediately I pictured a doll dressed in traditional folklore attire, or at the very least, some flip-flops!
When he opened his luggage and pulled out the bag, I almost couldn’t contain my excitement. He reached in and pulled out what looked like a bunch of little green balls growing on a stick.
Um, eww, that is NOT a present – it was more like a weed.
“Mandy, why the ugly face?” asked my dad.
“What is it?”
“They’re called quenepas. It’s fruit – taste it.”
Yeah right, that is not fruit. Fruits are bananas, apples, and pears. That wasn’t finding its way in my mouth. But with the entire family now looking on, it appeared I didn’t have a choice.
The quenepa (pronounced kee-neh-pah) is a small green ball, about the size of a quarter. The traditional way to eat them is to put the entire ball in your mouth, crack the thin shell, and chew the pulp off the seed.
My first taste was simply divine. The gelatinous, fleshy pulp was juicy and mildly sweet. It tasted like nothing I’ve known before and on that hot, summer day I was converted. Now I anxiously await for family to visit – and bring me some quenepas!