Rambutan: (Nephelium lappaceum) see illustration. In the months of July and August, fruit stalls and door-to-door vendors in many South East Asian cities present an extra colourful picture. The reason is the bunches of a strange looking oval fruit with bright crimson or yellow skin covered with short fleshy hairs—rambutan—is in season, and plentiful. The word comes from the Malay, 'rambut' meaning hair. Inside is a narrow seed covered with semitransparent flesh which is crisp and mainly sweet. A lot depends on the variety, but it is obvious that the best varieties have been chosen for propagation and export.
During the rambutan season, fruits are displayed in great heaps in roadside stalls called boutiques. This is the local term for small shops that sell vegetables, fruit and some of the necessities of life. At this time of year; itinerant vendors who carry their 'shop' on the pingo or flexible pole which is slung over one shoulder with a basket on either end, start carrying a different kind of basket. Not open baskets which display their wares, but large, egg-shaped baskets a bit wider at the bottom than at the top, woven from tender green coconut leaves. Every child knows without having to look inside that these baskets hold rambutans; and every child will run to ask the adult in the home to buy some of the fruit which is so popular.
Since rambutans are now being exported and distributed widely in areas where they have not been available before, I thought it wise to write a brief guide to eating a rambutan. Never cut the fruit in half right through the seed. Make a cut with a sharp paring knife, as if you were going to slice the fruit in half, but only cut through the skin. Then lift off half the skin, leaving the rest as a decorative holder, especially when presenting rambutans as part of a fruit platter. This half shell is disposed of before starting to eat the translucent flesh. Hold the rambutan with the fingers.
Be careful not to bite too deeply or the flesh will come away complete with the tough, papery skin of the seed attached, and that is not rambutan at its best. Nibble daintily and detach only the succulent flesh. Then you are enjoying rambutan as seasoned veterans do. Rambutans make a lovely addition to a selection of dessert fruit. Leave some whole for guests to admire. Slit the skins and lift off half the shells of the rest; or make 4 equally spaced longitudinal slits three-quarters of the length of the fruit to the stem end. Spread the sections like petals, making the flesh accessible and giving those who have not encountered the fruit before a hint of what lies within. It is a shame to do anything to this fruit other than eat it raw. Don't even think of cooking it!
Encyclopedia of Asian Food
By Charmaine Solomon
Reprinted by permission.
This page created July 1999
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