Rambut means hair in Malay. So rambutan is a hairy fruit. Makes sense 🙂
There is no original English word for it. So rambutan is also rambutan in English.
The rambutan is native to the Malay-Indonesian region, and other regions of tropical Southeast Asia. It is closely related to several other edible tropical fruits including the lychee and longan (*1).
To people of Malaysia, Thailand, the Phillippines, Vietnam, Borneo, and other countries of this region, the rambutan is a relatively common fruit the same way an apple is common to many people in cooler climates (*2).
When I was little and living with my grandparents and young uncles and aunt in Terengganu, Malaysia, rambutan seasons were always joyful times.
My grandfather and grandmother had several rambutan trees in the plot of land behind our house. When a season was good, the green rambutan trees turned red, and the branches sagged, heavy with fruits.
We had four varieties of rambutans – Che Embong, Perak, Rakyat and Gula Batu.
Che Embong was very good. Its dry flesh readily part (“lekang”) from the seeds. Sweet but not overly so.
Perak was also sweet and lekang. But it had lots more juice. Opening the skin, if not careful, the sweet juice would spill onto one’s shirt.
Rakyat was much smaller in size compared to Che Embong and Perak. Some were lekang and some were not.
Gula Batu was relatively harder to get. The color of a ripe fruit was yellow compared to red for Che Embong, Perak and Rakyat. But it was the sweetest of all. I believe that was why it got the name Gula Batu, Rock Sugar.
Searching the web for additional information on rambutans, I was pleasantly surprised to see a page explaining how to eat a rambutan 🙂 (*3)
That was good education. Some time ago I saw a video clip of a US talk show, where there was a durian on the table, and one of hosts was explaining how to eat the thorny and scary fruit. The first thing he did was use a machete to cut the durian into two, seeds and all, before plucking out the mangled pulp (flesh). Clearly no one there knew how to open a durian properly LOL 🙂