Strange Fruit pt. 8: Rambutan

It is fruit season now, which means all my discretionary income is vanishing at the roadside market. There are plenty of local fruits available year round – pineapples, papayas, bananas – but the best fruits are highly seasonal, available only for two months or so at the beginning and middle of the year.

One of my favorites is rambutan, with their bright red and yellow hairy skins. Rip or twist them open and inside is a thick sweet juicy flesh around a seed the size of an almond. I first encountered them as rum-tums in Sri Lanka, where they constituted a culinary high point during my few months there. Here in Kuching, they sell them on the twig for between RM 1.50 a bundle, more at the ends of the season, less in the middle.

The rambutan tree is easy to grow and care for, and so is often planted in people’s backyards. It is a medium sized tree if left untended. In an orchard I visited in Penang, though, the trees were all kept pruned to about fifteen feet so all the fruit could be harvested by step ladder. The shape and size of the trees were not unlike what you’d find in an apple orchard, except the trees were spaced much further apart.

I’ve got a rambutan tree that I planted about a year and a half ago. It’s a named variety: “Anak Sekolah”, or School Kid. I continue to be amazed by how fast things can grow around here: It’s about eight feet tall already. According to the nurseryman I bought it from, grafted stock will start bearing two years after planting. If so, I ought to get a little fruit in the middle of this year. I can’t wait.