Where lychee meets Chinese comfort foods in Chinatown

Sun Chong Grocery has plenty of the summery fruits from Big Island
lychee 2

Louisa Sung doesn’t have time for my questions. Lychee season is just beginning — a couple of weeks ago, she received 500 pounds of lychee and was expecting to receive 1,000 pounds more. Through June, Sun Chong will move about 1,000 pounds a week, because the lychee trees are now in full swing, pandemic be damned.

Sun Chong has been my go-to spot to pick up lychee for years — it consistently has the sweetest fruit with small seeds. “We don’t bring in lychee from someone who just planted a tree,” Sung says. “We’ve been working with the same farms for over 20 years, so we know they have sweet fruit.” Sun Chong carries Hilo-grown Kaimana lychee, distinguished by its larger fruit size; red, relatively smooth skin; and sweetness.

This year, for those wary of venturing into Chinatown, Sung launched online lychee preorders so you can pay in advance and just pick up the fruit. But preorders aren’t necessary — you can also walk in.

Over the past few months, I’ve come to Sun Chong to stock up on my pantry essentials, such as pi dan (practically made for quarantine times, with its long shelf life), and have made new discoveries in the process, thanks to Sung, who runs the shop with her mother and auntie and has had recommendations for everything I’ve sought. Coming in to replenish my lup cheong, as I reached for the vacuum-sealed package like those available in most supermarkets, she told me that they also bring in lup cheong from San Francisco. She prefers the former because it was what she grew up with, but since I grew up in San Francisco, I’m partial to the latter. The Chinese sausages come in loose pairs, linked with twine so they can be hung during the aging process, and they are firmer and less sweet than other lup cheong. Sun Chong sources them from Wycen Foods, which has made cured meats, including lup cheong and duck leg (which Sun Chong also carries), in San Francisco’s Chinatown since 1948. Each time I cook up the lup cheong, I’m overcome with nostalgia and marvel that from Honolulu’s Chinatown, I can taste San Francisco’s Chinatown, and — for now — with a side of fresh lychee. It’s like the best of both worlds.

127 N. Hotel St. • Chinatown • 537-3525 • sunchonghi.com