Rambután (Nephelium lappaceum) is a tropical fruit common to the north coast area of Honduras. According to my CURLA Fruits of the Humid Tropics book, it was first introduced to Honduras at the Lancetilla Botanical Garden from Malaysia in 1926. The fruits may be red or yellow. The tree can be grown from sea level to 700 meters altitude in areas which receive at least 2 meters of rain annually.
I've had rambután many times, and yeah, it tastes good, a little grape-like with a tropical perfume, sweeter and not as acidic as most grapes, but it is a lot of work for the amount of 'meat'. The egg-shaped fruit easily separates from the peel when you split open the covering around the equator. Then you simply plop the fruit into your mouth.
Unfortunately, the thin layer of fruit generally does not separate from the seed so easily. With a little chewing and sucking, you get a tiny bit of pulp but mostly juice. Often they are eaten around the kitchen table or outside with a large bowl or communal bucket in which to toss the peels and seeds.
These rambutáns, however, were like nothing I've ever had before!
They are from a variety developed by Fundación Hondureña de Investigación Agrícola (FHIA - Honduras Foundation for Agricultural Investigation), the organization known world-wide for its banana development. In addition to bananas and plantains, FHIA has been instrumental in introducing, developing, and/or promoting non-traditional exportable crops for Honduras, such as rambután, cacao, sweet corn, mango, ginger, black pepper, and others. When I asked Dr. Adolfo Martínez, Director General of FHIA, why I had never had this variety before, he explained that this fruit is grown for exportation. Not fair!
These exotic rambutáns had about a half inch or more of sweet translucent fruit around the seed. But the best part is that the fruit cleanly and easily separated from the seed. Wikipedia calls this a "freestone" type. The trees of this and other equally good varieties are available at Centro Experimental y Demostrativo de Cacao (CEDEC - Experimental and Demonstrative Center of Cacao) in La Masica for L.110 (about US $5.80). According to CURLA, grafted trees can begin producing fruit in as little as 2-4 years.
According to Wikipedia, the name rambután is derived from the Indonesian word rambutan, meaning "hairy". The silly looking bad-hair-day fruit doesn't really feel hairy — the spikes feel more like little plastic appendages. In Honduras, they may also be called licha (though they are not lychees) and peluda (hairy). A common name in Costa Rica is mamón chino (Chinese sucker).
The fruit is similar to the lychee (Litchi chinensis) which you may be more familiar with, but the lychee fruit isn't covered with the "hairs".
So if you ever see this odd little fruit in your local grocery store, buy it! It gets the La Gringa stamp of approval.
Sorry for the quality of the photos. The light wasn't great for photo taking and when I went to go take some new photos during the daylight, all of the rambután were gone!