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Lychee Frenzy

August 09, 2000|DAVID KARP

What is so rare as a fresh California-grown lychee? Not much, to judge by the frenzy of shoppers last Sunday when Robert Dimitman appeared at the Alhambra farmers market to sell his rosy-skinned fruits with translucent, perfumed white flesh. Dimitman calls his Covina farm Kwa Luk Gardens, after the legendary "Hanging Green" lychees that once brought $100 each in China.

Last Sunday he had the Kwai Mi and Chin Purple varieties, picked the night before. Most lychees encountered in California are grown in Florida, Mexico or Asia and lose their subtle fragrance after a day or two, so it's worth a special trip to Alhambra this Sunday, when Dimitman will sell most of this year's bumper crop.

Alhambra's market is large, spirited and distinctive, with a primarily Asian clientele and many small producers who sell only there.

At the last session, vendors offered a splendid selection of Asian vegetables. Nick Liao of Ontario had water spinach, Chinese garlic chives, edible day lily flowers, taro, 7-foot stalks of sugar cane and luffa gourds (eaten in soups and stews when young and used as sponges when mature).

Yao and Pao-Tsai Cheng of Moorpark sold slender Chinese celery, eaten in stir-fries and soups, leaves included. They also displayed unusual Chinese melons: sweet Taiwanese yellow watermelons; long Hami Kwa melons with crisp, pale salmon flesh; and small, sugary Taiwanese honeydews.

Billy Mua of Fresno had long beans, Thai hot peppers still on the plant, grooved bitter melons, giant winter melons (sold in sections) and two popular Asian gourds, sinqua and opo.

From Kingsburg, Alex Causey of Briar Patch Farms brought yellow-skinned Shinseiki Asian pears; refrigerated, they're the most refreshing of fruits on a torrid summer afternoon.

John Tenerelli of Littlerock had tasty Flamecrest and Elegant Lady peaches and white-fleshed Fire Pearl nectarines, picked firm as apples, as many Asian families prefer.

Fetzner Fig Gardens of Perris offered ripe, luscious figs: Brown Turkey, striped Osborn Prolific and green-skinned Conadria, the best-flavored of the three.

Alhambra farmers market, Bay State and Monterey streets; Sundays, 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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