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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     

  

龍湖庵的美味傳奇─煙燻龍眼乾

◎文/侯雅婷 

 

  龍眼乾是華人社會烹煮甜湯的配料要角,許多人也喜歡把它當零食吃。只是燻製小小一顆龍眼乾卻須集眾人之力,繁複的製程讓人瞠目結舌。位於阿蓮區建寺106年的龍湖庵依循古法燻製龍眼乾由來已久,是傳統亦是文化,正因這份堅持,讓龍湖庵產製的龍眼乾幾近傳奇。

  龍湖庵住持印悟師父指出,寺裏廣植龍眼樹,煙燻龍眼乾解決產季時新鮮龍眼供過於求的問題,並延長保存期限,亦成為寺內主要經濟來源。每年8月龍眼盛產季節也是龍湖庵最忙碌的時節,今年龍湖庵於8月中旬起、連續18天日夜不停的窯火燻製著龍眼乾,龐大的龍眼數量啟動10格窯應戰,每格窯一次約燻烤1千多台斤龍眼。新鮮的龍眼連同枝幹被整齊地鋪置於烤盤,歷經24小時蒸發水氣,再移置一旁,悉心地取下一顆顆的龍眼,將龍眼平鋪至窯裏內,連續燻烤5天,每天得翻面3次,避免烤焦,工作人員置身瀰漫龍眼碳香味的窯場工作,味道雖好,卻不免燻得人直流淚。然而煙燻出好品質的龍眼,每個環節至關重要,煙燻龍眼乾全都選用龍眼木,讓龍眼乾的香氣更加濃郁;而掌火候的師父得精準拿捏火候,並得在1百度高溫的窯口前揮汗看顧柴火,只為守護龍湖庵出品龍眼乾的好口碑,等待多日,一顆顆果肉呈現透明褐色的龍眼乾,帶著久久不散的碳烤香氣,宣告出爐!

  待龍眼乾全數煙燻完成,還得在太陽下曝曬2至3日,更耐久藏,再篩選賣相佳的大顆龍眼,連殼販售,小顆的龍眼則悉心去殼去核,剔出果肉販售,成為當地熱門的伴手禮,龍湖庵也會在過年等特別的時節,準備龍眼乾茶予遊客細細品嚐。

    

購買龍眼乾:龍湖庵 07-6332008