June 14, 2024

Rambutan – Jewel of The Jungle

Malwana in May is a sight for sore eyes; for it is when the rambutan orchards in the area bejewels themselves with clusters of bright red fruits. There is not a soul that doesn’t love this tropical delicacy and isn’t enticed by the sight of trees laden with clusters of red, yellow and green fruits.

Malwana is the capital of rambutan country which spans across around 15 km northeast of Colombo along the Kelani River, extending all the way up to Hanwella. Come rambutan season, the streets in Malwana (and even Colombo) wear shawls of red and yellow as wayside vendors set up makeshift stores to sell the seasonal fruit.

Although Rambutan has a history of more than 500 years in the paradise island, it is believed that this succulent fruit found its way to Sri Lanka through the Portuguese from its birthplace Malaysia. Rambutan gets its name from Bhasa-Malay, which translates to ‘hairy man of the jungle’, owing to its quirky outer appearance. According to historical narratives, Rambutan ended up along the banks of the Kelani River in Malwana, because back then the Portuguese had a fortress in the town. Luckily for us Sri Lankans, the climatic conditions and soil in Malwana was perfect for the tropical fruit to thrive in harvest.

It is in May that Rambutan trees start bearing flowers announcing the harvesting season which follows through to till August. This is when busier times begin for the orchard owners as they start preparations to begin harvesting. The biggest challenge for them is to safeguard the fruit laden trees from bats during night time, and squirrels and other birds during the day. Strategically placed huts across the orchard to be used for night watches become commonplace during the harvest season as farmers spend many sleepless nights to save the harvest from bats. During the day, the constant ‘clicking and clunking’ sounds made from ‘takas’ keeps the squirrels and birds away. A ‘Takaya’ is an apparatus that is made from a glass bottle or tin with a metal rod inside which are then hung on trees to produce a sound when they sway with the wind.

The red jewels find their way to the streets of Colombo and suburbs through merchants who flock to Malwana during the harvesting season to buy these succulent fruits to be resold to young and old consumers alike, who eagerly await to taste this sweet delicacy. The Sri Lankan soil and climate has been a blessing for Rambutan, as the variety that grows in Malwana is considered to be the most delicious kind of it all.

Rambutan is rich in zinc, potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus and manganese, and also contains vitamins A, B and C. It is a good source of natural sugars such as fructose and sucrose. Rambutan leaves and bark are used as a remedy to heal wounds and to treat fever. Native Malaysians use these as a natural medicine for eye infections. Young shoots and leaves of the tree are used to make dyes for fabrics.

Enjoyed mostly as the fruit in its raw form, today Rambutan is also used to make various drinks such as mojitos. Despite how it is enjoyed, Rambutan is a flavorsome treat that brings delight with each bite into the delicious lychee.

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