“Look! There’s one over there!”
It’s funny how the sight of a Rambutang tree laden with its furry, red fruits can bring out the bright-eyed, inner child in even the most sombre personality. Generally, I’m far from what you’d call sombre, so no surprises that by the time we’d sighted our first tree I was already bordering on manic enthusiasm.
Turning off the Colombo-Kandy highway towards Malwana, renowned as Rambutang country, we diligently followed the directions of a little old lady we’d met sitting in a tuk-tuk by the side of the road. To see fields of Rambutangs, she said, we’d have to get to Malwana town and take a right turn along a bridge that leads to the more rustic neighbourhoods.
Every home in this area had a garden, every garden had at least one Rambutang tree and every Rambutang tree was weighed down with ruby-red fruits. Exclamations were rife within the car! But these were only home gardens; we hadn’t even got to the plantations yet.
As we took another turn down Malwana Pidaliyawatta Para, the road narrowed and more and more Rambutang trees began leaning in towards the car reaching out with their heavy branches. Some sections of the road were turned into archways of long, deep green leaves interspersed with the crimson fruits. Eventually, we drove up to a small clearing in the trees and sitting on the ground – mid-morning sunlight streaming down on them through Rambutang branches – were a group of women sorting, breaking off stems and bagging freshly picked Rambutangs. It was truly an idyllic scene and we absolutely had to get a closer look.
When we approached the peacefully working group – there were two men up on the trees in addition to the women – their friendly welcome was heart-warming. Their smiles were indulgent when we told them we’d especially come to see Rambutang fields, and they generously asked us to pick as many fruits as we wanted. But not wanting to carry off part of their livelihood, no matter how small a part, we stood by, chatted with them and photographed them as they worked.
Rambutang trees have sturdy trunks that branch out quite close to the ground. On the tree that the group was working at, every branch had great bunches of the fruit. Each time a bunch was cut off, the branch would bounce up in the air indicating the weight of the abundant fruit. The men in the trees would then throw the fruits down to the women, who would stem, sort and bag them. Large piles of Rambutangs were rapidly forming under the tree, some as tall as the toddler walking among the women and occasionally throwing curious glances at our camera.
I decided to stroll through the little plantation and couldn’t help marvelling at the profusion of the fruit. When I came back, one of the women, presumably having noted that we weren’t going to pick any of the fruits, transferred an arm-load of Rambutangs to me. “Please take them,” she smiled at my surprised and grateful face.
“There’s nothing like standing under a Rambutang tree and enjoying a freshly picked fruit,” said one of the men. And taking his advice, we did just that. We found he was right.
I don’t remember the first Rambutang I’ve ever eaten, but I remember always having loved Rambutangs. It’s one of those childhood memories that you can’t quite pin-point the beginnings of. Whenever the season came along, Colombo’s streets would be lined with piles of the red and yellow fruit – Rambutangs come in two varieties. My favourite recollection of the season was my dad bringing home bag-loads of the fruits and everyone sitting around the table littered with the furry skins, Rambutang juice dripping down arms and chins. Inside the thick outer skin covered with hairy prickles is the juicy, white fruit that glows like a moonstone. The fruit is thought to be best when the sweet, white flesh can be pulled cleanly off without the skin of the stone detaching. I tend to like the slightly woody flavour of the skin of the stone though.
Leaving the group to their work, we sauntered along the road, munching on Rambutangs and enjoying the rural setting. Past many more home gardens full of Rambutang trees, we came to another much larger plantation. We absorbed as much of the Rambutang-filled atmosphere as we could before it was time to leave. There is an easy-going nature about the locals here – yes, we were presented with more gifts! I put it down to living among the Rambutangs.
In childhood I’d imagined visiting the fabled Malwana. Yes, fabled – because a place where an abundance of Rambutangs grows must surely be the stuff of legend. As I matured though, these grand visions diminished. How perfectly juvenile to believe that there is a land where as far as the eye can see, every tree would burst with a profusion of yummy Rambutangs! Having finally visited Malwana however, the adult me was proven wrong and the little kid from not too long ago actually got to see the fabled land of Rambutangs.