Tuesday, 10 June 2014

on how to eat watermelon the way baba does

watermelon with maldon salt
there used to be a fruit wallah at the corner of college and kohsar road in f-7 in islamabad. he displayed his produce in pyramids on his rehri. in the summertime roughly hewn crates holding cherries, apricots and mangoes would be added alongside. baba would stop to buy fruit from the khan after picking us up from school. the heat would encourage the produce to release its scents, leaving the air heavy with sweet. this would attract a colony of wasps and bees, their business lining sound with a constant buzz. i was afraid to roll down the window for fear of being stung. 

over time, i came to recognize the fruits by their fragrance. apricots were delicate like blossom honey. peaches like light caramel. mangoes were a collective of two and sometimes sickly sweet. hard skinned fruits like cantaloupe and lychees gave nothing of themselves. a trait they shared with watermelon contained by its green exterior. i always thought it reticent and secretive.

the familiarity and loyalty of baba’s custom meant that the khan treated us with care and affection. he would draw baba’s attention towards the sweetest fruit and offer him what he called his best price. summer brought forth the most variety. slim and pale skinned sunderkhwani grapes were a particular weakness, as were the big round and seedy ones the colour of purple bruises. we also loved the black-purple cherries from hunza. the watermelon held rank for its cool freshness and the mango reigned supreme, secure in its designation as the king of fruits.

i remember that baba would always ask the khan whether the grapes, mangoes or peaches were sweet but never the watermelon. this it turns out had not only to do with its cloaked personality, but with a well-worn joke. it is said that the khan was once asked by a customer ‘tazbooz kaisa hai?’ (how is the watermelon?) to which he replied in a somewhat annoyed fashion ‘mujhay kya pata?! main tarbooz kay undar thori rahta hoon’ (how would i know?! you ask as if i live inside the watermelon!’). 

i am always reminded of this when buying watermelon. unlike in pakistan, watermelon in london is sold in halves and quarters. yet even the display of its spongy pink-red flesh does not tell of its potential. i bring it home in hope of sweetness and have finally discovered that the turkish ones are full of promise. o and i eat them as baba does, sprinkled with coarse salt. it transports me to hot and sticky june afternoons. 

baba would draw the wooden chicks suspended outside the windows, as well as the curtains on the inside to foil the entry of the sun. he would place a halved watermelon that had been scored in its shell on the coffee table, along with forks for whoever was present. we would sit in the cool dimness, eating cold sweet watermelon, its moisture hydrating and reviving us in the swelter.

half a watermelon
{watermelon wedges with flaky salt}

flaky sea salt

make sure that your watermelon is cold. 

halve and then quarter your watermelon. slice it into thick wedges. stack these on a plate sprinkling the surface of each with a pinch of flaky sea salt.


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