I first encountered longans in 2007 on a trip through the Mekong Delta. Our guide picked them fresh from the trees for us to try. I remember them being lychee-like, but with thicker skin, much bigger pits, less flavor, and a very thin flesh. Overall, they were a lot of work for minimal payoff.
This week in Kauai, I’ve been keen to try any local tropical fruit on offer. On Tuesday that included longan, the special of the day at Banana Joe’s. It turns out that Hawaiian longan are notably different than their Vietnamese counterparts (or at least from the ones I tried). First, the pits are much smaller. Second, the skin is thinner (think lychee, but without the bumps). The result is a lot more flesh per-longan. They have the texture of a lychee with a taste that’s nuttier and less sweet. While a significant improvement from my first longan experience, they still weren’t a fruit I would gorge on directly. However, tonight we made a great discovery: longan-banana-soy milkshakes. The banana added just the right amount of sweetness and soy milk complemented the longan’s natural malty flavor. While it still won’t make my top 10 list of tropical fruits, in Kauai I’ve learned how to appreciate it and will likely make another milkshake the next time we visit!