And sure enough, in the audience, hands go up, followed by voice questions, “What was that fruit, that white one?”
Lychee fruit, he tells them. More than 30 kinds, the fruit originated in China, now Israel is the largest producer. High in vitamin C, with a bumpy, papery, red skin that peels away to a soft white flesh.
Enough of the same fruits year-round. He’s looking for something different. A new taste on the tongue, more flavor, variety. Something unusual. Satisfying. Delicious.
He remembers when he was younger and the only place he could find lychees was the Chinese restaurant. And no one ordered them. But he knew the sweet, pearly softness, the way its taste reminded him of places he’d never been. And now he knows that this fruit in particular softens the taste buds; lychee-flavored lollipops soothe the taste buds and queasy stomach of chemotherapy patients.
A gem, this little bud that doesn’t grow anywhere nearby. That alone is part of its allure – that he can obtain it, that he can tempt taste buds with a new flavor, introduce his customers to a far-off fruit, expand their culinary horizons.
He answers questions, he shakes hands, he conveys information.
And as he does so in the evening in his small part of the world, somewhere else it is daylight and someone is in a field, picking the alligator-strawberry ovals off shiny green leaves, dropping them in a bucket.
Lychee or litchi or laichi or lichu, the only member of the genus litchi in the soapberry family. Grown on trees in tropical locations where summers are humid and winters are short. The trees grow slow and tall, as high as 35 feet, evergreens with fruit in clusters.
When ripe, the fruit is small – no more than an inch and a half long. Small, succulent, a burst of flavor on the tongue.
You can find them at Hiller’s.