Chiang Mai Has Gone Bananas

Alex Gunn 11 March 2011 0 comment

banana sellers

You may think the idea of having 5 different types of bananas to choose from is entirely normal. But, I can assure you that if you had grown up on the outskirts of London in the 1970s were it was unusual to buy fruit at all (unless someone was ill) you would also share my amazement. 

When we were kids a sign of extravagance was to have a bowl of fruit on the sideboard. At Christmas it was joined by a small bowl of walnuts. There were only ever 3 kinds of fruit in the bowl, apples, oranges and bananas. The apples were soft, the oranges bitter but the bananas were at least a bland non offensive alternative. They usually disappeared first, then the apples and the oranges were sometimes left untouched and alarmingly none the worse for several years.

How can it be that you can get to 40 something years old and not realize there are varieties of banana. You would think that someone might tell you along the way, in the same way that you get to realize that the moon is not really made from cheese or the school nurse tells every boy their eyesight is so good they could be a fighter pilot (I was eighteen when an optician nearly killed himself laughing).

When I moved to Chiang Mai I basically thought that bananas were bananas. I had some vague idea that I had seen tiny, miniature bananas in Harrods or somewhere posh like that, which cost about a million pounds, but just assumed they were some weird affectation of the rich and famous (“Jeeves….make my bananas smaller!”). It is therefore with childlike delight that I can walk down the road any time and peruse several varieties of banana in my local market.

At the moment the market looks like a banana festival on Planet Banana. There are tables full of bananas of every shape, size and hue of yellow. I love the tiny finger sized ones that come in enormous bunches of up to 20 fruit. What I particularly like is the fact that you get so much for only 20 Thai Baht and when you eat them you feel like a giant. The flesh of these tiny fun sized bananas is a pleasing dark yellow. As different to the white anemic tasteless things we grew up eating as you could possibly get.

The fact that they are so wonderfully small and good to eat really does get me. Imagine being able to eat little water melons or growing tiny little juicy apples on little fairy trees. Moving to Thailand must be as close as you can get to moving to a different universe.

Although the tiny bananas are a knock out they do not have as good a taste as the big traditional looking fellows. My Thai friend told me that the literal translation for this type of banana is “good smell” which is certainly well placed. When you peel them they are beautifully fragrant which makes them irresistible. Although the flesh is whiter than the small ones they are creamier in taste and not as grainy and seem to command much higher prices.

In between these 2 extremes there are what I call “everyday bananas”. I get the feeling that people don’t really like them, that they are a bit common, which suits me fine. They are certainly the cheapest, I can get a big bunch for just 10 Baht or even 5 Baht if they won’t keep too long. They tend to be fairly straight and modest in size. The last bunch that I bought had hard black seeds inside like lead shot. It was the first ever time I’ve eaten a banana that has got pips. Will the wonders of Thailand never cease?

I have a strange affliction whereby I will almost certainly cycle down to the market this evening completely certain that I don’t need to buy any more bananas only to return with another huge bunch feeling strangely proud. My children are beginning to develop a pale yellow tinge although luckily for me the novelty of banana sandwiches has yet to wear thin. Perhaps I’ll buy just one more bunch.

 banana trees in old house

Alex Gunn

Alex Gunn

Alex Gunn runs a small unusual travel company called The Life Change People People based in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. After several diverse careers as a circus performer, school teacher, psychotherapist, stunt pilot and university lecturer he can now be found poking about far flung markets, museums, restaurants and odd places in and around Chiang Mai. When not running his company or writing about the joys of life in Northern Thailand he writes about motivational psychology. He recently received a prestigious Beacon Award from the UK government for his creation and management of a new BSc degree in motivation and health behaviour change. He lives just outside Chiang Mai with his wife and 2 children.

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