I’m writing another letter to you because I remembered a story which I thought you might enjoy. First though, I should note that my blog recently had two views from China in a single day. I’m thankful my readership in your country has doubled and hope some untapped potential remains. Thanks for any help you can offer. Here’s the story.
A cherished memory from long-ago took place at a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco. My wife and I were in California for a bank convention of the Community Bankers Association of Georgia. We visited Chinatown one night with our good friends, George and Kathy Leverett. We bought gifts to take home to our children and strolled by a cleverly named take-out restaurant, “TA KE OUT E.”
That amusing signage has stayed with me, but we wanted a sit-down dinner so kept walking down the busy street. We found a nice restaurant, the name of which has long escaped me, and had an amazing meal. The food was splendid and the hospitality exceptional.
An elderly Chinese gentleman, who I assumed was the owner, came to our table several times to check on us. He was a gracious host, as was the young lady who served us. As we were finishing our meal he asked if there was anything else we might want. I have an incurable addiction to sweets but had not seen anything listed on their extensive menu, so I asked if they offered any desserts.
“Lychee nut ice cream,” he responded with a smile. “Very good.”
“Lychee nut ice cream?” I asked, having never heard of it before.
“Yes,” he affirmed. “Lychee nut ice cream. Very good.”
I am a devoted fan of butter pecan ice cream and would commit certain misdemeanor crimes for a pint of the highly elusive black walnut. I was introduced to home-churned peanut butter ice cream in 1975 by Mr. Shelton Colson in Valdosta, Georgia. A hand-crafted version of that unique flavor from Leaping Cow Ice Cream in Atlanta is one of my present-day favorites. My expectations for lychee nut ice cream were, therefore, heavily influenced by a history of marvelous nut-infused varieties.
Our bowls of creamy vanilla were topped with large almond-sized lychee nuts. The nuts, however, did not look firm and were not sliced into small bites as we expected. Their appearance suggested a kinship with albino grapes which had been peeled and left to shrivel on a hot sidewalk.
“You got us into this,” said a skeptical George. “You should go first.”
As I bit into the rubbery tissue of a lychee nut I was unsure if I could continue but even more determined my friend George should be subjected to the strange taste and texture. So, I lied as convincingly as possible for a nonpolitician and told him it was the most exhilarating burst of flavor I’d ever had. George may have been suspicious, but curiosity easily overcame caution.
I’ll never forget the look on his face as he contemplated whether to keep chewing or swallow it like a raw oyster. There was a moment of uncertainty as he placed his napkin over his mouth, but he finally managed to get it down. Then he spoke in his usual low-key manner.
“It’s hard to understand,” said a knowing George, “how your lychee nut could have been so delicious yet mine was barely edible. What do you think could have caused that difference?”
“I don’t understand that either,” I replied. “Yours must have come from an old lychee.”
We hid the remaining lychee nuts so our kind host would not see them, then enjoyed vanilla ice cream topped only with humor. We laughed late into the night and over many years as we retold that story. The most special moments, I’ve learned, are often unplanned.
My friend George died of cancer in the spring of 2010 at age 58. I don’t guess he reads my column, but just in case I want him to know I still think about him sometimes. I still miss him.
Lychee, I discovered later, is an Asian fruit that when dried is referred to as a nut. Although I can’t claim an affinity for their distinctive taste, I’m thankful for the sweet memory they helped create. And should I ever see lychee nut ice cream on a menu, I will warmly remember my good friend George. Then I will order the plain vanilla.
Thanks again for reading Joiner’s Corner in China. That goes for both of you.