When you saw this, your first thought was to put it in your mouth, right?
This is the Jayapura street market at night. Rambutan man works by day and stands at far right. It was still my first week in the country and I barely knew how to say numbers. We communicated with hand signals. Rp. 20,000 per kilo.
It helps that inside they look like eyeballs.
See, I had no one to teach me. No one told me I had to peel them or that the seeds were poisonous** or that I had to scrape the surface of the seed with my teeth to get a corkscrew of perfect fruit, otherwise the flesh would just collapse in a sea of delicious juice.
But I figured it out, and, well...
I thought, and still think: all I knew up until then was pears and apricots and apples and sometimes the odd mango. It was easy to think I knew what my favorite fruit was, but (I realized as I swallowed the rambutanflesh) there was no way I could have, and there will never be a way I can, until I’ve tried every fruit in the world.
Where to find rambutan in Orange County:
Since Orange County is home to Little Saigon, the largest concentration of Vietnamese outside of Hồ Chí Minh City, the most reliable places to find rambutan tend to be tiny Vietnamese fruit markets (anything with the wordstrái cây on the awning should do). In Vietnamese, the word for rambutan is chôm chôm (pronounced chohm chohm). The two I frequent (that also happen to be right next to each other) are:
Trái Cây Ngon
8920 Bolsa Ave
Westminster, CA 92683
8922 Bolsa Ave
Westminster, CA 92683
Occasionally, Albertsons, Wholesome Choice, or Whole Foods will carry them, but the price will be anywhere from doubled to sextupled what it should be. Depending on the season, a Vietnamese fruit market will charge between $2.50 and $6 per pound, while I once witnessed Whole Foods charging $18.99! Not only that, the ones in the traditional supermarkets tend to be brown and wilted. Better brown and wilted rambutan than no rambutan - their thick skin makes them hardy and resistant to overripening - but if you have the choice, take advantage of the fresh, cheap ones.
*Spoiler: durians are delicious despite their odor.
**Whether the rambutan seed is or is not in fact poisonous is a matter of much online debate. Suffice it to say that my Indonesian co-worker shrieked in terror when she saw me pop a whole one in my mouth a few days later.