Meet the longan. Its name literally translates to “dragon’s eye," which I can only assume stems from the way its translucent, off-white flesh resembles the eye's sclera, with a pupil-like black seed within. I was tempted to take a picture of all their beady little eyes exposed and peering out, but it’s impossible to eat just half a longan. Like biting into a plump cherry tomato or succulent grape, cramming the whole thing in your mouth is almost a matter of principle.
With a sweet, almost-crisp bite, the longan’s flavor is very much that of a subtle, floral honey. Lychees and longans are often compared to each other—probably because these two fruits come into season at the same time. Whenever you see the brilliant, glistening, ruby coat of the lychee, you’ll no doubt spot the plain, mottled brown skin of the longan, too. The poor longan, not as lusciously sweet, decadently perfumed, or extravagantly juicy as the lychee, is often put down as inferior—referred to, in fact, as the “handmaiden of the lychee."
Fresh or Dried
Yet, in the final race toward human consumption, the longan is the dark horse. Being drier, fresh longans fare much better than lychees during transportation, with significantly better odds of arriving at tables none the worse for wear. Grown in Florida and Hawaii, fresh longans appear in dishes as diverse as mahi mahi and longan ceviche and chicken with longan and macadamia salad. I like them plenty fresh and out of hand, but here’s the cincher: Unlike lychees, which aren’t very good past their prime, I’m just as enamored of longans dried.