A bunch of longans, still on the stems, valued at around $10.
Soon after the fresh lichees disappear from Chinatown markets, the longans appear.
These husk-covered fruits come from a tropical tree that can grow as high as 150 feet. The fruit is sweet and pearlescent, but there really isn’t a hell of a lot of it, since each fruit has a dark shiny nut inside.
To peel, insert your thumbnail under the husk, and tear it away, swatch by swatch. The fruit inside should be moist. It has a very subtle flavor, sweet and almost loamy. Work it around in your mouth and then spit out the seed.
In Chinese medicine, longans are said to have a calming effect. In dried form, they are used in sweet soups. To acquire them, check out the fruit stands on the south side of Canal Street around Mott Street, or south of Canal on Mulberry Street. Vegetables stands along Grand Street on either side of Bowery also carry them.
Longans still on their stems are something of a luxury product. You can get them much cheaper if you buy them loose.