Friday, June 19, 2009

The Real Pinoy Rambutan

Usually in the rainy months, the red rambutan becomes a common fare among fruit lovers. The hairy fruit, which is just a usual sight among pinoys may look weird to first timers, especially foreigners. I remember chancing upon an episode of that U.S. TV series Ugly Betty. They were featuring fad fruits in New York and the protagonist Betty discovered a rare find, the fabled tikki fruit. There is no such thing as a tikki fruit, but they used the rambutan as representation in the show.

To confirm whether it was the rambutan that was used in Ugly Betty, I googled the episode and it was indeed the fruit. But I also stumbled upon a chat room arguing about the rambutan's origin. Malaysians and Filipinos frequent the site and they started a debate whether the fruit is Philippine native or not. The exchange of words bordered on obnoxious. It however fueled me to do my own research on whether the fruit is native to RP.

Most literature would credit Malaysia and Indonesia as the origins of Nephelium lappaceum or rambutan. But the tree has been domesticated widely in Southeast Asia. So much so that the fruit has equivalent cultural uses and vernacular names in different Southeast Asian cultures. But undeniably the fruit has become common in this region and in the Philippines has been associated in the identity of different places, like Davao. However, some scientist could still not discount the fact that much of the philippines is still unexplored. The islands of Palawan and parts of Sulu have exhibited similar flora and fauna of that of the Malaysian plate. Plus there are vague accounts of wild old trees of rambutan (and lanzones) found in some Philippine forests.

Whether the rambutan is native or not may not be proven in the near future. But what might be sad is that there is a confirmed Nephelium variety that might be greatly unheard of by Pinoys. This species, Nephelium ramboutan-ake or bulala (some may call it kapulasan), is very much native. I had only seen a fruitless tree before, which I could not tell apart from the rambutan. The fruit is said to be less sweet, but the hair is shorter and less pronounced. I only saw it in pictures.

A few weeks ago I scouted for some latundan bananas in Nepa Q Mart ( which was along my way home) when I chanced upon a familiar fruit resembling the rambutan. It had shorter hair but was very much redder in color than the rambutan. The vendor was selling it under the pretense that it is the more popular fruit. But even with the seller's confusion, it didn't hinder me to buy a couple of kilograms of the suspected bulala. I brought it home to have it tasted by members of our household. They found the bulala less sweet, more sour. My dad says he likes it better than rambutan because it has more flavor and easier to eat. The skin was easier to break than rambutan. The flesh is more tender. One down side is that its shelf life might be shorter. The day after I bought it, a lot of the uneaten fruits were already rotten. But even so the bulala shows much promise, maybe better than its famous cousin. We could hope that more Pinoys would discover this Philippine native and develop it to a more marketable variety.


Brokensaint said...

good post!

ponchit said...

The late dean Umali once related to us that when. he was new teacher in UPLB he would be asigned menial jobs when there were affairs at the social garden (tama ba ako or social hall ba yun were the garden shows are held) and he really did not mind because Dr. Gonzales would be bringing in some fruits of rambutan from his trees that he brought in from Indonesia He was the only one that had it and so Dr. Umali did not mind cleaning up after the affair just to pick the seeds from the dining tables.He also said that most of the varieties introduced came from those seeds (this was in the early eighties when I used to visit him very often>

When My Dad was still taking up his agri studies in UPLB back in 1955 He stayed at the house of Dr. Gonzales and he also told me that they would steal the fruits from the doctors trees and bring them to parties in Manila. It would be an instant success (for them with the girls) because nobody knew what they were at that time.

metscaper said...

nice story ponch.

Hasmina said...

Hi, this variety is really interesting! where in the Philippines can I find such? Looking forward to your response.

RC said...

Hi! Would you know where can we get seedlings of this?