Thursday, January 31, 2008

Living with Lychees

A little reading and a little refreshment in Paris.

Yesterday during my shopping, I picked up 0.180Kg of lychees for 0,45euro. I somehow doubt they're locally grown, but this is the Global Economy and I'm doing my share. Besides, I love lychees.

When I was young, Lychees were a special treat. Something my parents would let us have on rare occasion - straight out of the can. Other times, it would be in that Filipino fruit salad served at parties. I would stand there, picking out the lychees from amongst the canned cherries, canned peaches and whatever else was floating in that syrupy liquid. Every blue moon,they would land some frozen fresh lychees that we would keep in the freezer, peel and eat the icy cold sweet meat. It was heavenly.

Later in life, I moved to Hawaii and met a girl who lived in Wahiawa whose family owned a lychee (as in "lie-chee" and not the "lee-chee" pronunciation I had always used). The lychee tree bears fruit every two years, and every other year she would give me paper grocery bags full of fresh lychee fruit.

As I sit here in my Paris flat (read:hotelroom) on this cold, rainy night eating fresh lychees imported from who-knows-where, it dawns on me that maybe I don't really like eating fresh lychees...

First of all, you have to peel them. That takes patience, dexterity and time. Wedge off the top nub that was, at one time, connected to the branch, then work a fingernail under the skin and start peeling. A few tears here and there, and then maybe you can work half the shell off. Pop it in the mouth and the flavor ranges from sweet to medium. It's rewarding, but then it might not be.

Then you have to deal with the thick underskin that layers between the sweet pulpy meat that you want and the big seed that you don't want. That underskin takes all the fun away and you have to work around it. Slowly, you lightly chew and suck and chew and suck some more - always being careful not to break through and have the tannins and the bitters come through from the seed.

As you work, your fingers are getting wet and sticky, then you have to wash your hands and keep paper towels handy. It's really quite a pain. Really.

I've realized that canned lychees have fresh lychees beat, hands down.

Somewhere, out there, perhaps in Southeast Asia, or in China, a group of low paid workers have diligently picked, skinned and shucked the lychees for you - by the millions. Then these people doing God's Work can that lychee fruit in a sweet syrup and ship those cans to your neighborhood market so that, one day, you can just pull it off the shelf and go to town.

Open that can and you've got lychees galore. No mess. No fuss. No muss. Lychee Martini? Toss a fruit in the glass. Make it dirty? Pour some of the syrup in too. Add the syrup to just about anything. Boil it down for a reduction. Blend it all with some ice for a refreshing shake. Mash it down and add water for a refresco. The possibilities are endless.

But my favorite way is straight outta the can. Just take the whole can and put it in the freezer for an hour or two. It's okay, there's enough sugar in there to prevent it from freezing solid. Once the lychee is icy cold, take it out, open it up and start eating.

First that icy cold fruit hits the mouth, numbing it slightly. Chew, let it come up in temperature and you'll taste the flavor as it develops. Ahhhh, refreshing. Especially on a hot, humid summer day.

I'm sure someone in Paris has a can for sale somewhere...

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