Village of Traditional Tile Roof House & Longang Brick Kiln
Introduction to Dongyuan’s Longan Kilns
Located just up Route 104 from the town center, Dongyuan’s longan kilns can be hard to find in the maze of streets that wind down off of the main road here. But if you come to the area in August and September, all you’ll have to do is follow your nose. The aromatic fragrance of the roasting longans will lead you right to them.
This part of Tainan is known for coffee, turmeric, and its sweet and flavorful dried longans. For those who don’t know, longans are a tropical tree in the soapberry family closely related to lychees. The fruit is a sweet translucent white pulp about the size of a grape with a hard dark seed in the center. A thin woody shell that is tan or reddish in color protects the fruit. The name longan means “dragon eye,” a reference to the way the peeled fruit with the seed inside looks.
Today, Dongshan farmers grow several varieties of the longans, most of which ripen in August or September. The red-shell variety is considered to make superior dried fruit, but only a little of this is grown here. About 75% of longan production consists of what is called the pink-shell variety.
You wouldn’t think of farming longans as a dangerous occupation, but left alone, the trees grow up to five stories high, and plenty of local residents have tales of grandparents who were injured or died in falls while attempting to harvest the fruit. Now, farmers prune and stake the trees to keep them low to the ground.
Fresh longans have a limited shelf-life, so once the fruit is harvested, the excess is dried in the local kilns. Dongshan District has some 400 traditional kilns still in operation, as well as over a thousand automated roasting machines. The traditional roasting method is an extremely labor-intensive process brought to Taiwan by Chinese settlers during the Qing dynasty. It results in a far superior dried fruit, so if you are interested in making a purchase, look for the hand roasted berries.
A longan kiln is a roofed-over brick platform, generally around ten meters long and four to five meters wide. Kilns are built into sloping hillsides, and each one contains several clay ovens. The top of each oven consists of a platform made of slatted wood or bamboo. During the long off-season, the kilns lie idle, and visitors here are more likely to come across Golden Orb Weaver spiders hanging out in their webs than they are to see other human beings. But during Dongshan’s six-week longan harvest, these kilns are active 24 hours a day.
After harvesting, thick layers of the longan fruit are spread out over the slats. At the entrance to the oven, a wood fire—longan wood is the fuel of choice—is lit, and the resultant heat and smoke filter up through the slats to dry the fruit. The fire must be continuously tended for five to seven days and kept at precisely the right level to slow-dry each batch of longans. The fruit itself must be turned every few hours throughout the entire process. If the level of the fire is the least bit wrong or the fruit not turned at the right time, the batch will be ruined. This means that during the drying season, most families sleep at the kiln, with one family member preparing food and bringing it out for everyone to eat.
Once the longans have been dried, the shells must be removed by hand. There is no way to remove them by machine that will not damage the pulp. When all is said and done, three kilograms of fresh longan yields a pound of dried fruit with a sweet, concentrated flavor that really pops in the mouth.
These days, the dried fruit is used to make juice, jelly, and ice cream. It’s also baked into bread and used as a food ingredient, especially in soups. And of course, it’s quite tasty on its own. If you’re interested in trying out some of these local treats, you can check out diners in the area or nearby Dongyuan Old Street, where you’ll be able to find longan products, and turmeric powder and coffee beans as well.
Dongshan district, Tainan city
+886 916 301 338