Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Weird Food Wednesdays: Longan

If you grew up in an Asian household than this week's topic, longan, is definitely NOT weird to you. Still, most people in North America have never heard of it. And I sure have a heck of a time finding it around here, always hit or miss, even at my local Asian food market.

Longan's better known cousin, lychee, is bigger, fleshier and has reached a certain celebrity status in the cocktail world, appearing in fashionable lychee martinis across the nation. Meanwhile, the smaller, less-showy longan still lives in relative obscurity. I've always been confused by this because whenever I'm confronted with having to choose between buying fresh lychee and longan (the seasons overlap a little), longan is the clear winner!

Longan literally means "dragon eye" in Chinese due to its appearance - underneath the thin leathery beige/brown skin you'll find translucent juicy flesh surrounding a non-edible shiny brown pit. The size and shape is similar to a red globe grape. The texture is also grape-like but the flavor is really unique - so unique in fact that I had to eat almost half my stash to come up with an accurate description for you guys (OK, maybe I was just greedy - as a child, I would eat them non-stop until I gave myself a tummy ache). I may have to go back and eat the rest for a better description but for now, here's my best attempt: sweet, fragrant, refreshing, and slightly floral, like the nectar from a
honeysuckle. There's nothing like it! And perhaps I've been lucky, but every longan I've tasted has been sweet and ripe.

Although longan hasn't inspired me yet to write poetry (like I did for my
beloved cherimoya), I'm slightly obsessed with them. So I now present...

Longan: A Love Story...

The skin is easy to remove, just use your fingernail to pierce it gently and then it slips off very easily:

Unadulterated sweet glory, translucent, shimmering juicy flesh:

Separate the flesh from the shiny pit:

All gone! (sorry, Kris)

One of my top 5 favorite fruits of all time. I bet you'll love it!

Where to buy:

Fresh (in season during the summer months)
Chinatown/Asian Food Markets ($-$$ I paid a reasonable $4.99 per lb)
Specialty/Gourmet Food Markets ($$$ you'll pay a lot more at non-Asian places)
Online: ($$$$ - only if you are desperate)

Tips on selecting fruit: Longan are harvested when they are ripe. Choose fruit with skin that is free of any mold spots and tight to the flesh (no air pockets - this means the flesh inside is starting to rot). Longan still attached to the branch are fresher than fruits that have become detached. Longan can be kept at room temperature but should be eaten within a couple days of purchase.

You can also find canned longan (in heavy syrup) in your local Chinatown/Asian food market and sometimes in the international aisle of a well-stocked supermarket. Or buy canned longan online
here. While not as good as fresh, the canned version retains much of the texture and the flavor of the fresh fruit. Serve it with fruit cocktail and almond jelly as a refreshing dessert. Dried longans are sold in Chinese herbal medicine shops and Asian food markets for their purported health benefits.

And a huge SHOUT OUT to my good friend, Heavenly Housewife, who had her own Weird Food Wednesday adventure with Charentais Melon (which I am unlikely ever to feature since melons are the only fruit I'm allergic to!)



Heavenly Housewife said...

This looks so pretty. You know, I have been to chinatown in london maybe 5 years ago and looked in the supermarket. I really didn't know what anything was, now i wonder if i went if i would recognize stuff from your blog. I would definitely want to try this. Its so cute. Looks just like a leechee on the inside (which i have tried). I definitely see the dragon's eye thing.
p.s. shout out to u on today's post ;)
p.s.s. great pics!!!

Teanna said...

SO COOL! Tastes like honeysuckle nectar? I don't even know what that tastes like, but I want it!

Heavenly Housewife said...

Oh my god, its like discovering the name of Rumplestilskin! I have found the one food u wont eat! Even watermellons?

KennyT said...

Phyllis, your photos are so beautiful! What had you been doing in Vancouver last month apart from eating? It's time for you to confess! Did you have an intensive photography training, secretly? LOL.

Same as you, I always got longan mixed up with lychee when I was a kid.

There's a rumour though, it's that "don't touch your head after eating lychee", u know why? My mother always told to wash my hands thoroughly after eating lychee, coz if accidentally I touch my head, the area where I've touched will lose the hair.

Oh I digress, this post is about longan, or is it lychee? Haha.

Phyllis said...

Heavenly Housewife: Actually, I think you would be quite an expert in Chinatown now! I hope you can find longan, maybe in Tesco - it's so refreshing, and tastes better than lychee. Thanks again for the shout-out. And the photos are great because of the subject matter - can you see the love?! And yes, melon is my kryptonite! The jury is still out on watermelon - I've sampled some recently and I haven't died so I guess that's promising :)

Teanna: When growing up didn't you ever rip honeysuckle off the vine and suck the nectar from it? That's what I think longan tastes like - flowery but in a subtle way!

Kenny: Haha- you're kidding right? Coming from you that is a huge compliment - Thanks! The photos are actually taken on my el cheapo camera, some of them on the moody broken one. It takes Industrial Lighting & Magic to make them acceptable!

And WHAT - your hair falls out when you rub your head after touching lychee? What kind of Chinese mother do I have that didn't warn me about that?!(hi mom, love ya!). So I guess I shouldn't have braided my hair last night after I finished all the longan?!

Jenn said...

The only time i know it's Wednesday is when I read your Weird food Wednesdays" LOL.

At first I thought, it's lychee. Then I saw the title.'s it cousin. I had longan once. My Aunt gave me a bunch. I snacked on them until I didn't have anymore.

Phyllis said...

Jenn: I seriously need someone to tell ME that it's Wednesday every week so I don't wait till 7am that morning to write WFW! Glad you got the chance to try longan at least once :)

OysterCulture said...

I'm with you I love longan - they are just so tasting and addicting, I love the whole process of peeling them to get to their yummy goodness.

Phyllis said...

OysterCulture: Actually, I find it kinda weird to peel them myself, my mom always peeled them for me because I was too slow and clumsy. I could eat a lot more when I didn't have to mess with the shell! But they are pretty easy to peel :)

Lone Acorn said...

Lychees are so juicy and and tasty. This is the season when lychees come. And we can have lots of things from it or just gorge on juicy lychees. Having just one and you are gone. You will not stop until you had loads of them.

Phyllis said...

Lone Acorn: Thanks! Lychee are very addictive.

kirbie said...

Mmm, I love longan! Love lychee too. The season for fresh longan is so short, but I've bought the frozen ones at my Asian supermarkets, which taste like fresh ones (rather than taking on a different taste like other frozen fruits), and are around for most of the year.

Phyllis said...

Kirbie: I've never tried frozen longan before, thanks for the tip. Will have to look for it!

Jackie at said...

OH I'm drooling. All your features on tropical fruits make me wnat to get a ticket to Asia. I miss eating all those yummy fruits. Now you gotta convince Kris to try jackfruit and the dreadful durian lol

Shirley said...

When I was in college I let my roommates try some canned ones. They hated them and said the fruit was like rubber eyeballs! I thought they were nuts. I also like the drink they have at the local Malaysian restaurant -- I think they just serve longans and the canned syrup over ice.

Anonymous said...

It is so cool.When i was in my college one of my friend had given me this to take it was so tasty.


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Phyllis said...

Jackie: Kris has already tried the infamous stinky durian and hated it! Jackfruit, not yet, but he's heard that it tastes like durian so he's staying away!

Shirley: My hubby's coworkers didn't like the fresh ones he brought in for them to try. I just don't get it! b/t/w - love the name of your blog, I'm a huge LOTR fan!

Laurance: Thanks for visiting. Glad you got to try longan!

Tangled Noodle said...

I'm happily familiar with lychees but I'm probably one of the very few Asia-born Asians who has never had fresh longans! I saw them at the markets during our Philippines trip but was too enamored of the freakishly enormous jackfruits (which I thought only came in a can). They really do look like eyes, especially when split open like that. Very cool.

Thanks for the buying tips - I have seen them at our local Asian markets so I'm more confident about picking some up. 8-)

Phyllis said...

Tangled Noodle: I hope you get to try some longan soon! I seriously can't stop eating them once I start. I've tried fresh jackfruit only once before, in Malaysia. I taste a tiny piece before my relatives devoured it, but I think it tasted a bit like durian. I'd like to try them again but I've never seen them fresh over here.

vandana said...

this fruit in stubid hyderabadi markets which is in india is sold as lychee but it is langon now people should know that this is not lychee but alangon

Anonymous said...

Very informative! Thank you. I just moved into a house that has two of these trees in the backyard. They're enormous and LOADED with fruit! Come on over and grab some. There is even enough to share with the birds and squirrels!

Anonymous said...

Just had this! Thanks for telling me what I ate haha .. It was yummy! Reminded me of balata .. A similar fruit I ate where I grew up... TRINIDAD (Caribbean).

Gold On Runescape said...

I think you would be quite an professional in Chinatown now! I wish you will discover longan, maybe in Tesco - it's so relaxing, and preferences better than lychee. Thanks again for the shout-out. And the images are excellent because of the topic matterbuying runescape gold