Deliciousness Born in a Buddhist Temple-Longhu An's Smoked Longans／龍湖庵的美味傳奇─煙燻龍眼乾
Deliciousness Born in a Buddhist Temple-
Longhu An's Smoked Longans
◎English translation: Peng Hsin-yi
Dried longans are a staple in Chinese cooking. Not only are they used frequently in sweet soups, they are also many people's favorite snack. But few people understand the intensive labor that goes into the production of these tiny, wrinkly, concoctions. The process is jaw-droppingly complicated. Longhu An, a temple located in Kaohsiung's Alian District, has been producing smoke-dried longans for 106 years, ever since the shrine was built. What used to be a traditional industry has morphed into a cultural treasure that is cherished and passed down. It is with such a belief that Longhu An continues to dry longans using traditional methods, and their products have become legendary.
The Abbess of Longhu An is Master Yin Wu. She says the temple started making dried longans simply because there are many longan trees in the courtyard. Drying the fruit was an obvious solution to the issue of overproduction when the fruit hits peak season. Dried fruit has a long shelf life, and so helps sustain the temple's income during slow seasons. Longan fruit peaks in August, and that is when the temple is at its busiest. This year, Longhu An enjoyed an exceptional harvest in mid-August, and for 18 straight days, the temple's 10 kilns were burning day and night to process all the fruit. Each kiln can handle approximately 1,000 Taiwanese catties (a traditional unit of measurement known as jin in Mandarin). Each catty is 600g, so 1,000 catties is 600 kg or about 1,340 lbs.
The first step is laying fresh longans out on trays, with the shells, twigs and leaves intact. There they stay for 24 hours to partly dehydrate. Next, the twigs are removed from the fruit by hand. The fruits are then placed on top of one of the kilns to begin the five-day roasting process. These fruits are turned over three times each day so they do not burn. During this stage of the process, the temple's courtyard is enveloped in a rich, sweet aroma of roasting fruit. However, the smoke may make one's eyes water. The kilns are fueled by longan wood, which adds to the aroma of the finished product. The temperatures can be as high as 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit) for those standing in front of the kilns, but the nuns endure these challenging working conditions because this process is key to achieving the impeccable quality which the temple manages to attain year after year. After a few days, the fruits finally reach the desired degree of dryness. When the opaque white flesh of the longans has turned a translucent brown, and they are still warm from the fire, they are ready for the next step. After all the fruits have been dried and smoked, they are placed in the courtyard under the sun for another two or three days. This helps them last even longer. After that is done, the temple staff begin sorting the fruit. The larger ones which remain intact are packaged with their shells. The smaller ones, and those with broken shells, are shucked and sold like raisins. These fruit are popular souvenirs among locals and visitors alike. During holidays such as the Chinese Lunar New Year, the temple welcomes visitors by serving tea made with dried longans.
Where to buy?
Longhu An Temple: 07-6332008