Living in a region that translates to “where there are thorns,” the Antandroy people are resourceful when it comes to their cactus. The ubiquitous thorny plants, known as “raketa” serve as the main diet for cattle throughout the year and during the summer months, the cactus produces a sweet fruit, known as the prickly pear, that inundates the markets.
When I was first told that you could eat the cactus, I wasn’t sure what to think. It wasn’t until I saw a little boy with a long wooden pole and a basket at his side, did I understand the possibility of eating this thorny fruit. As the young boy stood on his tiptoes in the sand, he gently poked the protruding prickly pears from the cactus leaf with the tip of his pole. If ripe, they tumbled to the ground and he collected it in his basket.
Sold for 100 ariary (approximately $0.03) for a handful, the fruit are a cheap but popular food in the Androy region. I was beyond curious to try this new fruit and a group of my students were eager to introduce me to it.
Here’s how its done:
First, the outside of the prickly pear is mostly smooth but can often have some small tiny thorns invisible to the eye, so handle carefully. Be sure to rinse the fruit before cutting into them.
Use a sharp knife to peel the thin skin from the fruit. It is easiest to slide the knife in one circular motion around the edge of the cactus, keeping the skin in one piece. Inside, you’ll find a juicy green (sometimes yellow) fruit with big, white seeds. The seeds can be swallowed or alternatively, you just spit them out. Just be careful not to bite down on them (they are hard!).
Eat with your fingers and enjoy with a friend!