Sunday, November 22, 2009

Rambutan From Ba Tu Trai Cay Ngon - Westminster


On a particularly brisk Saturday afternoon, in front of a supermarket and looking out serenely at a busy parking lot, two Buddhist monks -- head shaven and bodies all draped in faded robes from shoulder to bare feet -- stand still, calm, and unwavered as oblivious pedestrians come and go, mostly ignoring their presence.

A few paces down the sidewalk, a near-toothless old woman in a conical straw hat hawks CDs and newspapers out of a shopping cart. Inside one store, there's a chaotic scene as a glut of people wave with their fists clutching money, trying to get the attention of someone behind the counter so that they can put in their orders for a banh mi sandwich. Further down, there are dimly lit, dank-looking pho shops, where hungry faces hunch over bowls, slurping up seemingly endless streams of noodles into their mouths.

Where were we? Westminster's Little Saigon, of course.

Our destination is a few more doors down. And when we get there, there are two women outside, each from competing stores, yelling at the top of their lungs like auctioneers or snake-oil hucksters, trying to do anything they can to charm passersby into stopping in and buying their wares.

What are they selling? Fruit and produce indigenous of Southeast Asia -- all that is weird and wonderful but are otherwise hard to come by the further north you go from the equator.

Some are piled in neat pyramids. Some hang above your head in pre-weighed plastic bags. Others, like jackfruit and durian, are both safely kept at waist level. These infamous fruits, sporting spikes as menacing as medieval weaponry, have been known to kill men when they make their free fall from trees.

Our quarry? Rambutan, which is a fruit that is as weird as the rest of the lot, perhaps even weirder. As "rambut" means hair in Indonesian, the golf ball-sized fruit are indeed hairy -- furry, even -- resembling the dangling testicles of a red, alien creature.

And since they're in season, we spot the things right away. But only this store had it in stock, and therefore the monopoly.

As we made our way in, we feel our shoes stick to the floor like it was covered in old gum, a result of all the accumulated dripped juices from all the fruit that has passed through these walls.

"How much?" I ask.

"Seven dollars a pound", one woman answers.

Steep, I thought.

I gather there's room for haggling, and they probably expect it, but I'm not much of a haggler, so I agree on the price and buy two pounds worth. After all, it was only a week earlier that I actually spotted rambutan at Ralphs (that's right, Ralphs) and they were selling them for a $1 a piece. Except those were sad representatives (CLICK HERE to read about that).

But these? These were the real thing. Finally!

Last year during a trip to Indonesia, Hong Kong and Singapore, we rediscovered them and searched them out like addicts on a drug-addled binge, buying them up from every street corner, every supermarket, where ever we found them, and then gorging ourselves back at the hotel.

Same as before, we took our locally bought bounty home and ate them with as much gusto. We dug into each fruit with both thumbs after starting them off with a slit made by knife. And like a Russian nesting doll, two hemispheres split and separated.

Inside revealed a white translucent flesh. We grab them by our front teeth and pop the whole thing into our mouths, scraping the juicy meat from the almond-like pit. The texture of rambutan, for those who haven't had it, is exactly like a lychee. But the flavor is tangier, livelier, just like the Little Saigon street scene I bought it from.

Ba Tu Trai Cay Ngon
8920 Bolsa Ave
Westminster, CA 92683

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Asian Tapas** - Irvine

*Special Thanks to Das Ubergeek, digkv & Wandering Chopsticks for pointing the way to rambutan!
**Special Thanks to brekkie fan for the tip on Asian Tapas.

20 Comments:

At 10:21 PM, Blogger Sawyer said...

hmm...i'll have to look for this now...i'm intrigued as to how this will taste....as well as dragonfruit. would i be able to find this at 99 ranch with some luck?

love the vivid pics!

 
At 1:29 AM, Blogger missingfly said...

Oh my! RAMBUTAN!!!!!!!!! I wished I can drive there right now!!!! It's has been more than 3 years since my last RAMBUTAN encountered. The pictures you posted make my heart stop beating for a while. Oh... how I miss thee... Thank you! Any pointer on "Manggis"?

 
At 3:30 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

"resembling the dangling testicles of a red, alien creature."
Ha! I nearly spit soy milk onto the screen, thank you very much. :-p

I've never tried fresh rambutan before. I had it from a can once, but haven't found it fresh. I would like to, though.
Of course, since you mentioned durian, I want that now, too. But then, I always want durian.

By the way, I tested this morning, and I am indeed expecting baby #3!!!

 
At 6:26 AM, Blogger Bill said...

Lots of food stall in this area that is good not to mention the fresh bake bread store too.

 
At 7:47 AM, Blogger DanGarion said...

So are the ones at Ralph's rambutan's or not?

 
At 8:40 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Sawyer,

I've seen dragonfruit at 99 Ranch. But not rambutan. It's unlikely we'll find some, but anything's possible. This does seem to be the season! Let me know if you have any rambutan sightings anywhere! I'm always on the prowl, especially for lower prices.

missingfly,

Yes, actually they do have manggis (mangosteens) at this place too. I saw it and Wandering Chopsticks also confirmed it in her post!

Juliet,

YAY! Congrats!!! We should pass out durians like cigars to commemorate the occasion!

Bill,

Any particular ones you recommend? The pho joint looks good! And I like Banh Mi Che Cali already.

Dan,

Actually they were. Just woefully past its prime. I clarified my sentence in this post so it's not so confusing.

 
At 9:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elmo Monster, you're a sell out...really...you used to write blogs about places you really enjoyed and were truly good, but now you only post blog about places that pay you to give them a good review. Seriously, these are some of the worst places and you try to make it seem so special and worthy, but they are not. They are dumps and your blog is becoming a dump itself...you sell out.

 
At 9:27 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Anon,

First of all, you're wrong: this blog has always been a dump. The template is circa 2003. The organization doesn't employ tags or the latest techy doodads.

But I take exception to calling these places I review dumps. There's no place you can get fresher tofu than Dong Phuong Tofu. And do I enjoy them? Hells yeah. I've been eating Dong Phuong for decades. And now, with the discovery of this place, I'll be eating rambutan for as long as they're in season.

If you think they're dumps, then fine. But that doesn't mean I or others won't enjoy them or find them "worthy".

And me getting paid by places to write reviews? That's simultaneously the most insulting and the funniest thing I've ever heard put in a comment!

 
At 12:35 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

I LOVE the dumpy places you review. You've allowed me to navigate places on screen and know what I'm getting into before I navigate them in person. So pbbbbbbbt to Anon.

"resembling the dangling testicles of a red, alien creature."

*SNORT* You kill me.

And congrats to fellow reader Juliet!

 
At 1:48 PM, Blogger Bill said...

There is a place in the corner next the big restaurant that happens to be in the corner too that server a seafood base soup I thought was pretty good. Now that's confusing...
My La Cay has some good dry noodle - yummy ducks only thing I hate about it is when they chop the duck the bone shatters thus crunchy bits with your noodles. The banh mi cali is always pumping out good fresh buttery bread. Mind you I've been out of Ca for a year now.

 
At 5:38 PM, Blogger EatTravelEat said...

Haha...this post is done on perfect timing! Just might go there this thanksgiving since I am going to Newport Beach this Thursday :). Yay.

Haven't had these in a long time and they look so good! Haven't had my fill of longans/lychees et cetera for this year. My home crop of longans was eaten by visitors...:(

 
At 10:02 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Melissa,

I love that I knew that that line might tickle you guys...um...no pun intended!

Bill,

My Lay Cay! I've heard good things about it too. And I love dry noodle. I haven't had it in a while! About time actually.

EatTravelEat,

If you speak VN, haggle! And tell me how low you can get them to go!

 
At 6:30 PM, Blogger Wandering Chopsticks said...

My longan tree comes into season in November. Since longans and rambutans are similar, I guess it's a winter fruit? Although, I've eaten them plenty when I visit Vietnam during the summer? And lychees come into season during summer too? Ah, I don't know.

You didn't try to bargain between here and Thai Son? Although, when I went they both had similar products and prices. Don't know how they compete.

There's another fruit place next to Pho Thang Long too.

 
At 8:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Dong Phuong was temporarily closed due cockroaches when I was a kid.

 
At 10:46 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Wandering Chopsticks,

Actually I was going to try to see what Thai Son had rambutans for, but they didn't have it! So I guess Ba Tu Trai Cay Ngon was able to charge whatever they wanted! Plus, I'm a lazy negotiator!

I need to check out that other fruit stall you speak of. I think someone else mentioned it to me too.

Anon,

You'd be surprised how many places are shut down for vermin, and some of them fancier by light years than this one. But all open back up, cleaner than ever.

 
At 10:26 AM, Anonymous Lisa said...

I have seen rambutan at Farm Boy, one of the two permanent produce vendors at Farmers Market (3rd & Fairfax). The two produce stands at Farmers Market are not what you would expect being located in what many think is just a tourist attraction. Great variety (often exotic), competitive prices and good quality.

 
At 11:49 AM, Blogger Ravenous Couple said...

the ABC supermarket sidewalk is a bastion of Vietnamese entrepreneurship...some great street food can be found from the locals who make things like banh bot loc or banh it tran at home and sell it there for dirt cheap prices---and just as good as the restaurants. They definitely expect the haggling so we haggle away when there...it's very much part of the fun!

 
At 1:20 PM, Anonymous Das Ubergeek said...

I'm late to the party (as always), but I'm glad you found it. I've found that while you can haggle, they won't bother lowering the price for just a pound of fruit unless it's the last pound of the fruit (in which case you don't want it anyway).

To the anonymous git with the libelous streak, I prescribe a cephalorectostomy, which is the delicate removal of the cord that keeps you from taking your head out of your arse. If elmomonster were accepting freebies he'd be a lot richer than he is.

 
At 2:19 AM, Anonymous Cookie said...

7 dollars a pound??
here in indonesia its only like 1,5 a pound lol

 
At 11:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've seen rambutan on sale for $4-$5/lb at the Mom Supermarket on Edinger in Santa Ana.

 

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