Friday, July 23, 2010

A love affair... with watermelons

Boris Kustodiev's Merchant's Wife (Wikipedia)
The first I remember about watermelons is when I was no higher than the boot of my dad's battered, racing green Jaguar. Back from market, we were helping him unload the shopping and I decided to carry a watermelon into the house. Yes, you guessed, I dropped it and it cracked on the pavement in all its red, juicy glory.

Far from being put off, my love affair with this magnificent fruit began then and there!

We were living in Tunisia, and when watermelons began appearing in markets, grocery stores or with street vendors, we knew it was summer. We had them daily after lunch or in the evening, sitting out on the front porch with salty Nabulsi cheese as a light dinner.

Every part of the melon is edible, including the seeds and the rind. There is an Arabic saying about watermelons: bit shabe3 al jou3an, btirw2 al 3atshan ou bit ta3mi al hmar -- it satisfies the hungy, soothes the thirsty and feeds the donkey. So the rind went to the goat, lamb or tortoise we invariably had in the garden (although never a donkey!) and the seeds were washed, dried and roasted with salt to enjoy with drinks.

A watermelon was the first thing we packed on picnics or days out on the beach. There was always a stream, river or waterfall to immerse it in to cool it off. And at the beach, we would bury the melon close to shore and collect it nice and cold when needed. Why anyone would come up with a portable cooler is beyond me!


When I moved to London, it was more difficult to satisfy my love for watermelons. The ones in the supermarkets tasted like unripe cucumbers or had no taste at all. The edible ones came from the Iraqi, Lebanese or Cypriot stores -- imported and very expensive. But I would treat myself whenever possible  by going to Moscow Road and carrying my watermelon on the tube from Queensway to Sloane Street and then walking home up the Kings Road.

When visiting my sister in Cannes, she always had one ready for me in the fridge and to her great regret I would want watermelon for breakfast, lunch and dinner, despite all the delicious things on offer in the south of France.

Watermelons are very healthy as they don't contain any fat or cholesterol and they are high in fiber content and vitamins A+C, in addition to potassium.

Now in Dubai, I have watermelons to my heart's content... except it isn't that easy. Although they are sold all year round, they are never from the same country and I haven't seen any local ones. I buy mine from the Union Co-Op, which has the best I think. The first ones to arrive in "winter" are from Iran -- usually elongated and a very pale green. Then come the Omanis, round, light green and delicious. The more widely imported are the Egyptian varieties but they also come from Sudan, Tanzania, Malaysia and there were the square ones from Japan once at Mercato Mall. The Lebanese watermelons are mostly sold at Lifco supermarket, but as I don't drive on Sheikh Zayed Road, I miss out on them.

Most recently, I came full circle when the Co-Op brought in Tunisian melons. They were striped -- light and dark green -- big and expensive (dhs9 the kilo versus the dhs2-dhs5 for the Iranian or Egyptian ones). But boy, was it worth it. They were the most succulent I have tasted in a long, long time! But, it was just one shipment. They have since disappeared.

I have watermelon after lunch most days; or rather I have lunch to have watermelon! It is one of the many pleasures of my day. What are yours?