As regular readers know, I’ve been staying on top of the Asian fruit situation this past spring and summer, sampling jack fruit, rambutan, mangosteen, and now lychees. I can say without hesitation that of all these, lychees are my favorite.
DL, my expert on all things China right now, tells me that in Cantonese lychee is pronounced “lie chee” and in Mandarin “lee zh” or “lee jer”. So we’re going to go with the Cantonese pronunciation here at AFFFG because we can actually make the sound “lie chee” pretty well, whereas “lee zh” is a little more difficult for a Mandarin-dabbler like myself.
So. What is it about lychees that is just soooooo good? Texture? Check. Flavor? Check. Fun factor? Check. Lychees really just satisfy on so many levels. I wonder if all over Asia they just go nuts when lychees are in season, similar to how Pacific Northwesterners seem to exhibit serious cult-like enthusiasm for Oregon strawberries (typical overheard conversations near the end of June go something like this: “Have the strawberries come in yet?” “Have we had enough sun yet for strawberries?” “How do you think the strawberry crop is going to fare with this weather we’ve been having lately?” “Where are you getting your strawberries this year?” “Are you going to make any strawberry jam this year?”) You get my point. Is there a similar lychee craze all over Asia when the lychees come in?
Again let’s turn to Mr. DL, for an exclusive interview:
Me: DL, is there a lychee craze all over Asia during lychee season, like our strawberry craze?
DL: Kinda, yeah. I’d say that at about this time of year on every street corner people are selling them by the cart. And you know there’s a big variance in quality and price. But the season is only about a month long.
The Man: Do they have a lychee festival?
DL: They kind of have a lychee festival, and they do have a lychee theme park. I think it’s an apt comparison…the Hood River strawberries to the lychees. People have been waiting, and now it’s the first of these big tropical fruits to hit the market. Summer is here and now they’re sweet and rich, and it’s only a month long. Then the lychee season wanes and you get longan, but those are not as sweet and fleshy. So after this, there are lesser waves of summer fruit. But I think the lychee really is something that people wait for, and when they’re out, they go crazy.
Companies will buy as gifts for their employees or for special favors, these prepacked boxes of special lychees, specially big or specifically where the seed or the pit is very small, because then you’re getting the most fruit per pound.
Me: Tell me more about the theme park. Do they have lychee cocktails or what?
DL: Uhm, no. Lychee World. You could call it a theme park in the sense that it’s a park and there’s a theme of lychees. But there’s not rollercoaster rides called Lychee Ride or anything. It’s more a resort based on that theme. It’s hard to map it to something in our culture. At the lychee park, you’d go in a hot spring, have your dinner, and walk around the park. Maybe there is some kind of water or log ride. But mostly it’s just like, uhm, Knotts Berry Farm got started marketing some idea of summer, I suppose.
They also have these lychee plantations, mostly on the hillsides around Guang Dong province. There’s all these lychee trees, but as they come into full fruit, the people get very jealous about making sure there’s no poachers, like people just wandering up. The only story I know of people using guns in China was to keep lychee poachers off their property. Pretty much all the hills around Shenzhen are full of lychees. There was a confrontation with this guy with a shotgun trying to keep poachers off his lychee plantation. It’s the only time I heard of anyone using a firearm in China, other than the police. I don’t even know how someone would come into possession of a firearm in China.
There’s a type of lychees that’s famous because it has very small pits. They’re likened to a rice grain, so they’re called nomi, which is sticky sweet rice. It’s like they’re saying this is the type that just have rice in the middle, not a whole huge pit that you have to chew around. So when you get that kind it’s like you’re not wasting anything in the packaging or the “chaff”. The size of the seed in these nomi variety are as big as a grain of rice, literally.
Me: That’s funny because I love the ones with the big seeds.
Me: I love to suck on them.
DL: I have to say there’s no fruit that I like to eat like I’d eat popcorn, except for lychees. And when I was living in China and they were in season, I ate at least a pound a day of lychees.
Me: They’re addictive.
DL: There was a really hard freeze this year and really heavy rain. So I don’t know if that affected the sweetness or the growing days of the fruit. It must have. So I think maybe this year the season will be a little later.
Me: How much are they?
DL: In China, if you get them off the street, a dollar per pound would be the best ones. But typically they’re about fifty to seventy-five cents a pound. Here in the States, I think they are about $2.50 per pound right now.
Xie xie (thank you), DL. This has been so informative.