Monday, November 5, 2012

Dragon Eye Fruit and Fruit Snatchers

Dragon eyes look like large clusters of grapes but have thick skins and grow on big branched trees. Oh, and yes, in someone’s fanciful imagination, they do look like golden dragons’ eyes. The Chinese name is longan, and they are a popular fruit with the Chinese and Vietnamese in Hawaii. Growing up on Oahu, I lived with my family in a little apartment hunkered below three large dragon eye trees and each year, during the night, I would hear thump thump thump as the fruits would fall on the rooftop.

Dragon eye fruits at the farmers market. 
One night, we were visited by dragon eye thieves. Who says money doesn’t grow on trees? Dragon eyes can fetch $6/lb in the market, and our trees were loaded.  Late at night, we were wakened by footsteps and voices on the roof. My mother barked at me to stay in my room. She shined a flashlight on the roof and into the trees and saw three Vietnamese men huddled in the branches with big bags of dragon eyes. She accused them of stealing the fruit, and they shook their heads, as if they had just happened wake up from sleepwalking and found themselves in our trees with no idea of how that had happened. The police came and after another hour or so, the men were arrested. Our Chinese landlord came out to inspect the damage, and took the bags to Chinatown to sell the fruit. Or maybe the police kept the bags? Who knows? It was so long ago. 

Dragon eyes from Mana Foods. 
Dragon eyes are also related to lychee fruits, but are greenish-yellow instead of reddish-pink, smoother-skinned, slightly more perfumey in fragrance, and easier to peel. But I’ve always preferred lychees, until recently, when I spotted some dragon eyes at Mana Foods. They were past their prime and on sale. I was suspicious they wouldn’t taste that great. But they were superb, the best dragon eyes I have ever had. Sweet and juicy and exquisite. It gave me a whole new appreciation for dragon eyes. The ones from my childhood never tasted that good.

Cross section of a dragon eye fruit...
looks kind of like lychee (or an eyeball) inside. 

Just yesterday I bought some more dragon eyes at a Kahului farmer’s market. They looked beautiful, but they were not as sweet and flavorful as the scruffy looking ones I got from Mana. They weren’t bad, they just weren’t eye-poppingly good. Like the difference between a fresh, tree-ripened peach and a so-so peach shipped cross country. Maybe I enjoy the flavor of slightly overripe fruit. Or maybe it all depends on the tree and the soil, which is what I keep learning over and over from gardening and at the Maui Farmers Union. The more nutritious the soil, the sweeter the fruit.

P.S. This is post #5 for November Blog Posting Month aka NaBloPoMo. Check out some other participating Maui blogs too: A Maui BlogBeachwalks, and The Ohana Mama


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