(No.4, Vol.8,Aug-Sep Vietnam Heritage Magazine)
Making dried longans, Bao Chau Village, Hung Yen Province. Photos: Ngo Vi Quang
Longan is a gift of heaven for the land of Hung Yen Province. Itâ€™s inconceivable that the alluvial land of the Red River produces such exquisite longan, called the king of all longans, only within Hung Yen Province.
The famous scholar Le Quy Don described, â€˜as it falls inside the mouth, the flavor penetrates the whole palate like a heavenly elixir.â€™ Indeed, Hung Yen longan is very special, diferent from those grown elsewhere. The fruit is round and big; the light brown peel is thin; the pulp is thick, ivory white, dry to the touch but very succulent, delicately sweet, mind-refreshingly aromatic, and the black round seed is tiny and shiny.
Hung Yen longan usually has in its Vietnamese name an additional word â€˜lá»“ngâ€™ which may mean â€˜cageâ€™ or â€˜interfoldâ€™. Some say because the heavenly smell of longan attracts bats, birds and all kinds of other pests, people used to make bamboo cages to protect the fruits. Some others say that the king of longans, fit for kings, was given to the royal court as a tribute every year, packaged in glass cages. The most plausible explanation is that the pulp has many layers that fold around on another, making it more opaque than the longans from elsewhere.
Hien Pagoda in Hung Yen City has an age-old longan tree, considered the ancestral tree of all and a symbol of the region. It is believed that this ancestral tree is the progenitor of all longan trees in the province that gave the land its fame. The tree even has a stele with inscription of its merits. Legends have it that once a mandarin passed by the place when the longan had ripened. He tried and found it exquisitly majestic. Recognizing this a valuable specialty, he brought some of it to the court to give the King. The fame of the longan quickly spread far and wide. Since then, every early autumn, people brought the longan to the court to make tribute to the King and the longan got a new name: tribute longan.
Longan flowers bloom in spring, during cold drizzling days. But on rare warm sunny days the delightful aroma spread enrapturingly.
The fruits ripen in the sixth and seventh lunar months. Heavy bunches of fruits of longan trees that grow on roadsides pull down the branches so low that passers by can pluck and enjoy the cool sweetness.
A refreshing fruit, longan is also very good for health. It has high calorie content, low fat, and is very rich in vitamin C that improves our immune system. Just peel it, remove the seed, then sun dry for a few days until the pulp becomes brown and lithe, and we have dried longan, which is sweet and aromatic but can be kept for a long time and used for many other purposes. It can be steeped in vodka for a certain amount of time, which then can be taken a small glass a day to improve oneâ€™s appetite and sleep and stablize oneâ€™s mood. Longan is a natural wonder when it comes to nerve-related disorders and illnesses, especially insomnia and depression. It helps the nerves relax and improves their active functionality.