By Wilfred Pilo
KUCHING, Jan 19: The seasonal local fruit called rambai is not everybody’s favourite.
For some, it is not as palatable as another local fruit called langsat which it is often mistaken for as both fruits are almost similar in skin texture and colour.
Compared to langsat, rambai’s translucent white pulp tastes slightly more tart.
For those who had a chance to grow up in close proximity to a fruiting rambai tree, say in a village, rambai is a familiar fruit, and when there is no other fruit, it offers a sourish treat.
To this writer, rambai brought back memories of foraging for all sorts of indigenous fruits in his village during abundant fruiting seasons.
For 72-year-old fruit trader Jali Gringu, or Lima as he is known in his village, selling rambai often sparks conversations and nostalgic memories of the fruit with his regular customers.
Hailing from Kampung Sampun Gerunggang in Asajaya, Jali said that customers would relate to him how they used to climb rambai fruit trees to get the fruit, or of a rambai tree serving as a place where friends would converge for the day to talk about their adventures.
“I am amazed by how people have good stories of rambai even though the fruit is not as palatable as other local fruits,” he told the writer when met recently at his fruit stall along the Asajaya/Sadong Jaya Road.
“Rambai fruit and these many stories can still stir up good conversations with the customers, and it makes my day,” added Jali.
“Of course, younger customers don’t fancy rambai and most who buy it are those older and more familiar with the fruit and the taste.
“This is good for business as it attracts customers to come and stop to buy this fruit and others. Rambai certainly has attracted a following, but you cannot obtain it every day, nor do many customers fancy it,” he noted.
Jali said he had been a fruit trader for more than 20 years. Prior to that, he was a timber worker from Saratok.
“I met my wife, who is a local here. When this road started to get busier, we saw the opportunity to sell jungle products, vegetables and fruits,” he added, revealing how he started his fruit selling business.
Jali said that Rambai fruit has potential if people know how to process and use the fruit in food or drink recipes.
“I heard that you can mix the fruit with other drinks to make a fruit cocktail. I believe the concoction is good if the flavours are combined.
“Villagers sometimes use the fruit pulp to cook and steam fish and even add it to other food because of the sour flavour,” he added.
Jali said people also use the fruit to make alcohol and other drinks.
“I believe that this fruit is nutritious and can be of good use in making drink and food. There should be further research carried out by the government on such fruit and others, so that fruit sellers or traders like us not only sell the fruits but their many derivative products. This will boost our economic well-being in this coastal area of Sarawak,” he said.
“I believe that is why they could not be bothered much (to cultivate rambai), but if the fruit has many by-products (sic), then I am sure they (the public) will become more curious to know about the fruit and taste,” he opined.
Jali also believed that not many young people have seen or can recognise a rambai tree.
“If they do and are familiar with its apperance, then they are probably inclined to visit our stall and buy the fruit to satisfy their cravings,” he added.
Jali revealed that he gets his supply of fresh rambai fruit which he sells at his stall from his fellow villagers.
“They ask me to sell it for them here and shared the profit. The fruits are plentiful, and instead of wasting the fruit and letting it rot, we sell it and make some money.”
He said that fruit sellers at his location could earn a good income, especially at the peak of the fruit season.
According to Jali, he can make up to RM5,000 a month during those peak fruit season.
“Of course, we are here almost 365 days a year from 6.30am to 5pm. The villagers here are hardworking, and we try to stand on our own two feet,” he shared.
“Fruits like rambai give us a good marketing gimmick, and it makes people stop at our fruit stall. Despite its taste, customers do buy them.
“At the same time, these customers also buy other fruits and vegetables at our stall. It helps us to generate income from selling other fruits and vegetables, which are plenty and available from our village,” he said. — DayakDaily