Lychees, water chestnuts, and crispy pork…What’s not to like about this succulent Fujian dish?

“A steed raising red dust won the fair mistress’ smiles/ But few knew how many steeds died bringing her lychees from the south,” wrote the poet Du Mu (杜牧) in the Tang dynasty (618 – 907), satirizing Emperor Xuanzong’s reckless indulgence of his favorite concubine, Yang Guifei.

Yet even if one believes all the (dubious) claims about Yang’s extravagance, she was unfairly blamed for this particular excess. According to one legend, Emperor Xuanzong did indeed transport fresh lychees thousands of miles from southern China to his capital of Chang’an (present day Xi’an) in the north, but this was as a favor to Consort Mei, his lover before he met Yang. Lychee pork, or 荔枝肉 (lìzhīròu), a traditional dish of Fujian province, is also said to have been created for Consort Mei.

As the legend goes, Consort Mei was a native of Putian, Fujian, a major lychee growing region. After joining the emperor’s harem, she fell into low spirits and lost her appetite due to homesickness. To cheer her up, a chef surnamed Jiang, who had accompanied Consort Mei from home, rolled pork slices into the shape of lychees, fried them, and then stewed them with sweet-and-sour seasonings. This later became known as lychee pork.

This is subscriber exclusive content

Become a subscriber to continue reading

Fruit of the South is a story from our issue, “You and AI.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


author Tan Yunfei (谭云飞)

Tan Yunfei is the editorial director of The World of Chinese. She reports on Chinese language, food, traditions, and society. Having grown up in a rural community and mainly lived in the cities since college, she tries to explore and better understand China's evolving rural and urban life with all readers.

Related Articles