Strange Fruit: Longan
There are many reasons why you would want to come to my house for dinner. For example, there is no such thing as a “last” bottle of wine, unless you mean “the last one we opened’. Before and after dinner, putting your feet up on the couch is encouraged, and nine times out of ten, you will leave with a packed lunch for work the next day.
There are also many reasons why you would not want to come to my house for dinner. These include the warning that any given evening might end up being Octopus Night, the cats throw up more often than our five month old – always right where you were about to step – and sometimes dessert is actually an experiment involving a bag of strange fruit.
Meet my good friend Sue. She thought that she was just coming over for soup, salad and a snuggle with the Choosy Baby.
Little did she know that I was planning to use the opportunity to spring these on her….another round of Strange Fruit.
When I saw these on promotion at the grocery store, I didn’t think twice about throwing a sack into my cart. All that I could tell from the tag was that these strange little fruit were called ‘longan’ and these particular ones were imported from Trinidad.
After doing a bit of research I learned that Dimocarpus Longan, otherwise known simply as ‘longan’ (or long’an) is the tropical tree that bears these little fruit. It comes as no surprise that longan is a member of the soapberry family, which is populated by the popular, perfumed and martini-ready lychee, as well as the hairy devil’s ball-sack, guinep.
According to Wikipedia, the literal translation of ‘longan’ (龍眼) is ‘dragon eye’, because the fruit looks a bit like a glaucoma diseased eyeball, with the black pit barely visible through the translucent flesh after you crack the thin shell. But wait! I’m getting ahead of myself here. And that sounds far grosser than it should. So anyway, let’s back up to our first foray into the world of longan. At this point, all that Sue and I knew was the name.
This face says, “Sure…yeah….I would like nothing better than to sample some of your strange and quite possibly abhorrent or poisonous ‘fruit’….thanks for that….”
The tawny brown and slightly pebbly shell of the longan was tough but thin and easy to crack and peel away. The fruit inside….sure does look like an eyeball.
And now for the taste test! I let Sue take the lead on this one. I’m a giver like that.
Stage 1: I can’t believe that you’re making me eat an albino cherry.
Stage 2: Huh. So that’s what ‘eyeball’ tastes like.
Stage 3:You know, this is….not bad at all…..no, really.
Stage 4: It’s kind of like a grape, soaked in booze, without a peel.
The best comparison to longan would definitely be lychee; the texture of longan is slightly juicier and the flesh is a bit sweeter but without the floral perfume and flavor that lychee is famous for. The pit inside is relatively small, so you don’t feel cheated by the fruit’s false claims (I’m looking at you, guinep!)
Apparently, longan can be found in fresh or dried form at Asian markets, and is used in many dessert soups and sweet-and-sour foods. At some point I would love to experiment with using longan in cooking, but for our first journey into the world of this strange fruit, raw was perfectly fine for us. In fact, I was somewhat surprised to find that we enjoyed it so much! The counter in front of us started to look like the Galapagos during sea turtle hatching season.
Would we buy longan again? Absolutely! And better yet, this Strange Fruit had not one but TWO converts that day.