Rambutan

The rambutan gets my vote for the world's strangest fruit. It is spherical or oblong with a bright cherry red skin. What makes it so strange are the green 'hairs' that extend about an inch out from the skin and sometimes end in tiny leaves. These stems are not stiff, like spines, but soft and pliable. The fruit looks more like a children's toy than something edible. I keep expecting to see them show up on some science fiction show standing in for alien food, but perhaps the look is too unbelievable even for television. However, in the words of King Rama II (1809 to 1824) in his "ode to fruit", "The outward appearance of the 'ngoh' is ugly, but the fruit inside is beautiful. One should never be deceived by appearances."

A wall of Rambutan
The rambutan's 'hairs' make them great building blocks.

Another name for the fruit is the 'hairy lichee', which makes sense given its look and taste. The Thai name for rambutan, ngoh, is also the name of an Negroid aboriginal group of peoples in the south of Thailand. The use of the same word is not coincidental. The ngoh – the people – are also known for their dark skin and stiff hair, just like the fruit. The association of the fruit with the ethnic group is common among Thais, for whom mention of the word brings to mind the legend of Sang Tong. King Rama II also penned an updated version of this legend, which is part prose and part poem, and every Thai is required to study it in the fifth year of their schooling. It's a little like "Cinderella" and "Beauty and the Beast" rolled into one.

Sang was a prince who was delivered from his mother's womb in a conch shell, a bad omen for which he and his mother were banished from the royal household. As a young boy, he was taken away from his mother and eventually ended up in the hands of a giantess, who adopted him as her son. After ten years, the young man discovered a pair of glass shoes, a golden cane and a magical ngoh mask, along with a well that contained liquid gold. Sang decided to leave the giantess, and so dipped himself in the golden well, put on the flying shoes and made off with the cane and mask. After this, he becomes "Sang Tong", Sang meaning conch shell and Tong meaning gold.

The giantess begged Sang Tong to come back, but he refused and she died of a broken heart. He put on the ngoh mask, which turned him into a ugly dark and hairy man, just like the fruit. Sang Tong made his way to a distant land, where the king had seven daughters, six of whom were married. The youngest daughter refused every suitor who came along. In frustration, the king summoned every bachelor in the kingdom, including the now ugly Sang Tong, and ordered his daughter to choose. Of course, as in all fairy tales, the princess chose the most unlikely candidate, the dark and hairy Sang Tong.

Infuriated by his daughter's choice, the king banished her and Sang Tong to the forest, where eventually he took off the mask and revealed his true handsome golden form to her. More trials and tribulations ensued for the couple, but of course in true fairy tale fashion they eventually lived happily ever after.

The outer skin of the rambutan is rather thick and a bit leathery. Inside is a white flesh with a single large seed at the center. The flesh tastes a lot like the lichee or longan. There are two varieties of the fruit, with the most popular by far being the rohng rian, which means "school" in Thai. The story behind this name is that one day a schoolmaster in the deep south was eating rambutan from the island of Penang in Malaysia, and spitting out the seeds in the school yard. One of the stones managed to take root and grew into a gigantic tree – the species can reach heights of 60 feet or more. This tree managed to cross pollinate with the local variety, and the new type of rambutan was born.

Rambutan comes into season during the early rainy period, from about April until August. At the peak of the season, you'll not only see piles of rambutan at the market, but whole trucks will cruise through the neighborhood selling a kilo of the fruits for just pennies. The rambutan can be grown all over Thailand, but two main areas are the best known. One is on the eastern coast around Rayong province. The other is Surat Thani province in the middle south. Such is the fruit's popularity that its arrival in every corner of the country is anxiously anticipated.

Weight Information
1 cup, drained 150.0 g
1 cup 214.0 g
1 fruit 9.0 g
Nutritional Information for 1 cup, drained
Energy 123
Protein 0.975 20.000 5%
Total lipid (fat) 0.315 65.000 0%
Carbohydrate, by difference 31.305 300.000 10%
Fiber, total dietary 1.35 25.000 5%
Calcium, Ca 33 1000.000 3%
Iron, Fe 0.525 18.000 3%
Magnesium, Mg 10.5 400.000 3%
Phosphorus, P 13.5 1000.000 1%
Potassium, K 63 3500.000 2%
Sodium, Na 16.5 2400.000 1%
Zinc, Zn 0.12 15.000 1%
Copper, Cu 0.099 2.000 5%
Manganese, Mn 0.5145 2.000 26%
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid 7.35 60.000 12%
Thiamin 0.0195 1.500 1%
Riboflavin 0.033 1.700 2%
Niacin 2.028 20.000 10%
Pantothenic acid 0.027 10.000 0%
Vitamin B-6 0.03 2.000 2%
Folate, total 12 400.000 3%
Folate, food 12 400.000 3%
Carotene, beta 3
Vitamin A, IU 4.5 5000.000 0%