When I was about 4 or 5, growing up in Guangzhou, I went crazy with excitement whenever my parents brought home a sack of lychees or rambutans from the fruit market. Abandoning whatever toys I was playing with at a time, I would instead grab a plastic bowl and sit for at least an hour or two, carefully carefully removing the skin and pits, not eating any of the flesh until the bowl was filled.
For a kid, this was an excercise in restraint. But I loved the smooth, sweet, and jelly-like texture of both fruits so much that I wanted to eat it all at once, without work getting in the way. And the extra wait made eating doubly enjoyable.
The name rambutan comes from the Malay word for "hairy", a fitting name for a fruit with a bright red prickly rind protecting pearly white or yellowish flesh. With yellow soft spikes that strike me as kind of punkish, rambutans seem to stand out in the market. Can I really eat these, you wonder. Will they prick me like cacti?
Like lychees and longan, rambutans only grow in Southeast Asia, news that came as disappointing when my family moved to Boston. We found lychees pretty easily in Boston's Chinatown. But rambutans, those were harder, and more expensive when available. So I resigned myself to eating it maybe once every year or two. And forgot about how rewarding it was to peel and pit for an afternoon, to have a bowl of sweet rambutans to enjoy at the end.
Now in Beijing, they are a bit easier to find now. A few days ago, I bought a bunch, for ol' times' sake, and peeled them up to toss in a fruit salad. (Be careful when you peel or cut open the rind, since often juice will squirt out. Pull the skin back and the fruit will pop right out.) My fingers are much more nimble then when I was a toddler, so I filled a bowl with rambutan flesh in a fraction of the time. But the result was no less satisfying.
Rambutan Fruit Salad
Serves 3 to 4
15 rambutan 1 large mango 2 kiwis 12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) sweetened coconut juice, chilled
Peel and pit the rambutan. Dice or slice mango into short thin strips. Thinly slice kiwis. Arrange or toss in a small bowl, and top with chilled sweetened coconut juice. Serve at once. Eat slowly while daydreaming about warm sandy beaches and lapping waves.