Those prickly red golf balls are in season, and Costa Rican agricultural officials are quick to report that the country has exported 2,600 tons over the last five years.
The fruit is the rambután (Nephelium lappaceum) or mamón chino that is considered here as a non-traditional crop.
Agricultural officials began selecting for trees and seeds that would grow well here in 2004. Now there are some 380 farmers producing the fruit, which is a native of Malaysia and Indonesia. Most of the 900 planted hectares is in the southwestern part of the country.
As one A.M. Costa Rica article said about the fruit: It’s like a crawfish: You just bite and suck.
The spiky, red or yellow fruit is held between the fingers and the top is bitten just enough to remove the hard outer shell. Inside is a sweet, pulpy mass surrounding a big seed.
The seed is edible but usually should be roasted first. It is the pulp that the casual nibbler seeks. Throughout the downtown and elsewhere in Costa Rica mamón chino-lovers can be seen walking along chomping at the fruit.
The fruit can be made into a syrup or canned, but most are eaten fresh.