Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Hami Gold Melon

I bought this melon at Fred Meyers last week and cut and diced it today, sampling it as I did. It was delicious; crispy flesh, refreshingly sweet, aromatic. I found a sprinkle of lime enhanced the flavor, but it wasn't really necessary. This is a great melon! It was labeled "Hami Gold." It originates in China, where it's called Hami-Gua.

The Hami-Gua melon was first cultivated in the Xinjiang region of northwest China. It is still primarily cultivated in China and several other Asian countries, though it can be found in limited markets in America in the Western states such as California and Oregon, and now, Washington.

In Xinjiang, China the Hami-Gua melon has long held a place of cultural significance. In ancient times the melons were sent from Hami to the Emperor and the imperial court as a tribute. The melon is celebrated in Xinjiang every summer at the annual Hami Melon Festival which features melon carving, painting, contests, folk art performances and tastings of over 100 different variates of Hami melon.
My first bite of this melon reminded me of a melon I had in Tehran, Iran, during an Air Force assignment there in 1978. It was probably the best tasting melon I'd ever eaten, and it almost cost my my life to get it. My team had been in Tehran about a week and three of us decided to look around on the first weekend. We came across a melon vendor on our walk and I decided to buy one. I'd learned a few words of Farsi, pointed a melon, and asked how much it was. The vendor, who'd been drinking tea with a couple of other guys, all dressed the same way in grayish, tattered galabeyas, told me ten Toman, but I didn't pick up on the Toman. I'd learned to count in Farsi, and I'd learned that the Iranian currency was denominated in Rials, and I handed the vendor ten Rials. What I didn't know was that Tomans had been the Persian currency, and many Iranians, especially the merchants still used the term Toman to mean ten Rials. So, when I handed the vendor ten Rials -- a tenth of what he'd asked -- he thought I was either trying to cheat him, or starting my bargaining so low that it was an insult. Whatever the case, he started hollering at me right off the bat. So I handed him another Rial. His hollering grew louder, and I noticed my two teammates sidling away down the sidewalk.

A crowd was forming at the melon booth as the vendor's shouting continued unabated by my putting another Rial on the melon stand, since the vendor was now refusing to take my proffered coin. Iranians were gathering around and I was looking for a way out. By now, I could care less about the damned melon, but the vendor kept pressing forward, now holding the melon in front of him as if it were his first born son -- a treasure I had demeaned by my paltry offer. Others joined in the verbal attack and although I couldn't understand a word of the vitriol being hurled at me, I knew I wasn't being feted as a valued American guest.

Eventually, an Iranian policeman appeared and giving me a sort of smirk, pulled a ten rail note from my hand, gave it to the vendor, who was by now shaking with anger, took the melon from the stand, put it in my arms, and ushered me away down the sidewalk.

As I said, the melon was delicious, but certainly not worth the near-death experience. I actually wanted to bring the seeds home, thinking I might grow the melons in my yard back in Ohio. I took the seeds up on the roof of the team house in Tehran and left them to dry in the sun. After work the next evening I went up to see if they were dry, and several crows flew off as I approached. They'd eaten all the seeds. Was I going to go back and buy another melon and harvest the seeds? Are you crazy!

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