Several weeks ago, after an evening of Korean barbecue for dinner, Mom put down a bowl of what looked like little, fat pink and yellow dragons in front of me. Eat them! They were for dessert, but I had no idea what they were nor how to attack the little spiny monsters.
Lychees! These are lychees?!?! Up until a few weeks ago, lychees were just a very-trendy-for-now flavor for cocktails or hard candy. I had only eaten real lychees as part of a Chinese shaved ice dessert, and knew them as white, sometimes faintly pink, delicately sweet fruits with a somewhat slimy texture like a peeled grape. They were always chopped and mixed in with all the other sweetened condensed milk, almond jelly, and red bean, so I never got a sense for what they looked like whole.
The funny thing is, I knew what a raw lychee looked like based on some pictures I had seen in their more “normal” form to me, in a can. They looked like yellowish pink strawberries. But the bowl in front of me didn’t look anything as innocuous as strawberries.
Berries have no real skin that has to be peeled, so you just eat the whole thing. Lychees have a skin that is rough and scaly, like what I would imagine a dragon to feel like, but the fruit is not hard like a golf ball, it gives when you squeeze it. But though the skin is tough, it isn’t thick. Once you break through, it’s very thin, and isn’t attached to the fruit part. It just peels off. Other “peel” fruits have skins that either have to be cut with a knife, like an apple, or peeled apart because they’re attached to the fruit inside, like an orange. The lychee skin is sort of like an avocado’s.
The flesh inside is milky white, and this is the part with which I am familiar. What I didn’t know about was the shiny dark brown seed inside that pops right out. Now that I think about it, a lychee really is like an avocado, with its reptilian skin and sweet soft fruit surrounding a dark pit that’s not attached. Avocadoes are also known as alligator pears. Lychees should be called dragonberries.
I’m sort of addicted to lychees now, and each time I've gone home this summer, there's a little bowl of dragons on the counter. There isn’t much else you can do with lychees other than eat them raw. Some fruits are food fruits, that you can bake into pastries. Some fruits are just fruit fruits that you eat plain, like grapes and... lychees. I just can’t really imagine that a lychee pie will ever make it onto a dessert menu in the near future. But that's alright. I’m certainly okay with a lychee martini after dinner :)