Have I Unlocked the Secret of the Universe?

Huge revelation. Stunning discovery: drench cantaloupe in fresh lemon juice and suddenly the world becomes a better place.

I try not to blog about foods I don't like probably for the same reason someone caught up in that first clutch of infatuation wouldn't badmouth his life's blood's dinky family--I'm not newly in love with food, but I share a similar level of blind loyalty. I also like to think that there's always room for a change of tastebud down the road (when I was little, I wouldn't let my tongue in two feet of ice cream that wasn't chocolate).

The same respectful treatment goes--but just not today--for the foods that I'll willingly eat but never crave and could live the rest of myself without tasting again: cashew nuts, Japanese shoh-to keh-ki (shortcake), melons, and the like. As you can see, the unifying thread here is blandness. All three could be considered "sweet," but that's as complex a write-up as they'll ever get. Much as it pains me to admit this, many Japanese sweets tend to be stuck in an unrelenting, monotonous sugar rut. Take castella, a much loved, adapted Portuguese cake--soft, moist, oh-so-fwuffy, and just brimming with the taste of sugar (do not be fooled by variations in color--there's only one flavor, sugar). And wagashi. If you ever see a prettily formed creation that looks like it's hiding a filling inside, let me destroy the mystery: it's sweet bean paste. Every time. Okay, it might on the rare occasion be a sweet potato paste, but the sweet potato will have been mysteriously divested of all its original flavor so that it will taste just like sweet bean paste. (I do like sweet bean paste, but I prefer the Chinese version, which is quite moderate with the sugar.) To be fair, wagashi's purpose is to cut the bitterness of the accompanying green tea--so it's meant to pack a sugar wallop that will freak out your pancreas.

Now on to melons and cantaloupes--the king of overpriced fruit in Japan. The preferred gift of givers striving to make a respectable gesture. Gar! Whenever we get a big, unwieldy gift of melon, I inwardly groan. I mean, melons are...big. They take numerous sittings to go through. They swallow up precious room in my dorm-room-size fridge. And there's always the possibility that someone forked over precious cash for them--though of course they could just as easily have been picked up at the supermarket for 600 yen. But I'm not enough of a melon connoisseur to tell.

So I'll eat the melons thrown my way, but there's little relish involved, even if I do somewhat appreciate the floral aroma.

But then! As the title of this post states, I unlocked what could possibly be the secret of the universe itself: lemon juice plus cantaloupe equals far better cantaloupe. That somehow comes across as a lot more anticlimatic than it really is. But, truly, it's a full transformation of a previously boring fruit. Suddenly all that aggressive sweetness of the cantaloupe is balanced, and I can taste complexity! And it tastes good.

What's next? Lemon juice on cashew nuts? Lemon juice on wagashi? Who knows! I have the entire universe stretched out before me.

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I bet the melons were 10,000yen! I'm so jealous. Nobody has ever given us a melon, or any kind of summer gift for that matter. Although, me not melon fan either, but I'm curious now to try the combo of melon plus lemon juice.

9/15/2005 08:59:00 PM  

i actually do like melons, cantaloupes more than watermelons because of the amazing aroma (and hopefully accompanying flavor).

in pastry, lemon is used a lot to brighten up flavors. add a little to a raspberry or strawberry sauce, and it really livens it up. in school, i remember chef jake always said that lemon juice is to pastry what salt is to savory food. though we actually use salt quite a bit in pastry too.

nice post, rachel. you always make me laugh.

9/16/2005 01:23:00 AM  

This may be so well known it's not even worth mentioning, but I love mango or papaya with lime squeezed over it. Mango works on its own but papaya is massively bland without it.

9/16/2005 06:26:00 AM  

Both the Chinese and Japanese are not known for the flavour of their sweet concoctions. Pity. Their food is quite good but they stopped there.

9/16/2005 09:22:00 PM  

Don't worry, Lynn, I don't think 10,000-yen melons are that special. But do try the lemon juice trick!

Hey Dexygus, glad I could make you laugh.

B, I have to confess that I don't like papaya that much, so maybe I should try your suggestion of squeezing lime over. Thanks!

Ana, I agree! I've never tried very hard to save room for dessert when at a Chinese restaurant.

from Rachel

9/23/2005 01:32:00 AM  

hi rachel! try squeezing a lime wedge onto papaya! and not just any wimpy grocery store papaya, but a really ripe one with deep red-orange flesh that they have in mexico or hawaii. c'est formidable!

9/23/2005 05:03:00 AM  

Okay, I promise to give papaya another chance. 

from Rachel

9/24/2005 02:52:00 PM  

Who knew? I'm not a big melon eater, but you're making them sound quite irresistible!

9/27/2005 06:41:00 AM  

Hey Beth,

Since we share the same non-enthusiasm for melon, I feel I should tell you: this new discovery of mine, while nice, doesn't make me want to run out and start buying melons, regardless. I don't want to get your hopes too up!  

from Rachel

9/27/2005 10:43:00 PM  

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