Tasting the Mediterranean

This article won 1st prize in the May Grantourismo HomeAway Writing Competition “Food & Travel”.

I could be anywhere along the shores of Nice, Tangiers or Agrigento. The unmistakable blue of the Mediterranean always calls to me. Here, at Dar sur Mer, the view from the white-washed balcony of our holiday home puts me in a trance. The open sea shimmers under the midday sun with pin points of silver dancing over the water’s surface.

The small town of Safra is merely eight kilometres from the bay of Jounieh, north of the Lebanese capital. I amble along a narrow road that hugs the coast, looking for memories. To my left, glimpses of the sea drown the incessant claxon of impatient motorists. I cross into the adjacent village, Bouar, and I stop in front of a street vendor. A hand-written sign, Toutia, stands above a colourful array of freshly-caught sea urchins.

And it takes me back…

To another Mediterranean summer long ago. To long hot days spent on a pebbled beach. To an adolescent boy named Hagop, his dark brown eyes peering at me from behind a yellow mask and a blue snorkel.

sea urchin - toutia

Knife in hand, he plunges towards the rocks below while I paddle around in tepid waters. His right hand submerges first, clutching a spiky creature. Like a prized jewel, he shows me his harvest, a black sea urchin with sharp spikes wiggling against his gloved palm.

With unexpected dexterity, he slides his knife across the black mass and cuts it in perfect halves. Using the tip of the knife, he discards the innards and presents me with a perfectly clean sea urchin, its bright orange lobes glistening under the sun.

“Please… eat,” he says in a thick Armenian accent that an impressionable young girl finds charming.

With the curiosity and revulsion of a thirteen year old, I stare at the offering as we both tread in shallow waters. What am I do with it?

Hagop dips the tip of his finger into the sea and drips sea water over the urchin. “A little salt,” he says before scooping out a roe and eating it.

I copy his technique and put one in my mouth. The flavour is rich and creamy. The texture is smooth and spreads on my tongue like butter with a lingering sweetness of the sea. I taste the Mediterranean.

Hagop’s face lights up with a smile.

“More?” he asks from behind his mask.

And he disappears below the surface…

I look up from the trays of freshly-opened Toutia and meet the street vendor’s eyes.

Addesh?” I ask him the price for a box of culinary memories.

Back on the balcony of our holiday apartment, we set the table for an uncomplicated local meal. Two plates, two teaspoons, a couple of chilled Almaza beers and a box of Toutia overlook the sea.

I hold one in my hand, reach for a spoon and pause in reminiscence. I leave the utensil on the table and scoop the sea urchin roe with my finger.

I taste the Mediterranean, once more.

This post has been entered into the Grantourismo and HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition.

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Tasting the Mediterranean was last modified: December 20th, 2015 by Corinne Mossati

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Corinne Mossati

Corinne Mossati is the Founder/Editor of popular online magazine Gourmantic and Cocktails & Bars, a website dedicated to cocktail culture and the discerning drinker. She is named in Australian Bartender Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential List, is a member of The Academy responsible for judging the World’s 50 Best Bars. She has also judged the inaugural Australasian Whisky Awards and various national cocktail competitions.

45 Comments:

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Tasting the Mediterranean | Gourmantic -- Topsy.com

  2. Great storytelling. Good luck with the contest. Hope you win; I am cheering for you.
     

  3. Now that’s an evocative piece of writing. It may even convince me to try a sea urchin!
    All the best for the competition :-)

    • That’s a lovely compliment, Chris. Thank you. I wrote this piece from the heart.

      And do give sea urchins a try, especially if you can get them this fresh.

  4. Beautiful piece and crossing my fingers for you – I feel like I was right there trying them too! :-)

  5. Great story telling! I used to go to the waters near Bouar to pick sea urchins.  A knife in on hand and a bamboo basket in the other. Those were the days when I could hold a long breath while swimming, and I’d come up with a dozen or so sea urchins with each breath. I have to say, sea urchins are so much better than oysters. And you’re so right, that buttery sweetness with the water’s saltiness is what the Mediterranean is all about! Fantastic story!

    • Fouad, what a lovely coincidence! :) I’m thrilled to learn you used to pick sea urchins, let alone and the area around Bouar! I find that sea urchins from the Mediterranean taste very different to those we get in Australia, and those I’ve tasted in Japan. I find Mediterranean sea urchins pack more of a sea flavour and tend to be sweeter.

      Thank you for your kind words :)

  6. Beautifully told.  I haven’t yet tried sea urchins, but given that I’m living in southern Italy I’m dying to do so, especially after this story. Brava!

    • Hi Katja and welcome! Glad to have inspired you to try sea urchins. They have a lovely taste from the Mediterranean. Grazie for your lovely comment!

  7. Love living vicariously through your travels!  Good luck- it’s a great piece!

  8. I LOVE this post!  It’s so beautifully written and the title rings true.  You took me back to the first time I tasted sea urchin (ricci in Italian), also freshly caught off the shores of Sicily.  Good Luck with the competition.

    • Thank you for the compliment and well wishes Kathy :) Glad it resonated with you. I didn’t get a chance to try them when I was in Sicily, but as I say, always leave something for next time!

  9. Shukran for your entry! Love Jounieh, love Lebanon, love the Mediterranean, and love sea urchins! You have me missing them all!!! Although we’re in Venice now, so I really can’t complain, can I?
    Apologies for taking so long to acknowledge your entry – we had spotty internet access all last week in Puglia – take a look at this and hopefully you’ll understand: (the best place to access the internet from our trullo in Puglia).
    Good luck!

    • Thanks Lara. I’m pleased you enjoyed the entry and you’re familiar with the area around Jounieh! In some ways, I liked it more than Beirut though the capital has more of a diversity.

      No problem. Glad you eventually got internet access before the due date!

  10. Very nice, you took me back to my youth and summer days spent on the island as well (except the boys where collecting mussels!)
    Good luck.

  11. It is one thing to be able to enjoy and describe a good meal.  It is even more splendid when you can do that and connect such good food to good memories.  Thank you for sharing both, and best of luck with your submission!

    • Thank you, Justin. The memory is deeply rooted with the sea urchins that I can’t imagine one without the other…

  12. lovely story, were you on word limit count? because such prose needed at least 500 other words, some seagulls and the perfect sunset we have from Dar Sur Mer.
    salem

    • Thank you, Salem :) You’re quite correct. I had to keep within the word limit for this competition and I totally agree with you. To capture the magic of sunset at Dar sur Mer, I need a lot more words. Maybe the subject of a future post. Thank for the suggestion :)

  13. Hi Corinne – Congratulations! You’ve won first prize in our May Grantourismo Travel Blogging Competition. Details as to what you’ve won are on our site. I’ll email you later today about it. Thanks for entering!

  14. Hi Corinne, congrats on winning first prize in the Grantourismo comp! Very well deserved, this piece really takes us there with you and I can almost taste the sea too!
    We’ll be in touch to let you know how to go about booking your stay on HomeAway Holiday-Rentals.
    Best,
    Sarah

  15. Fantastic. You made me want to try sea urchin someday as well as explore those waters…

  16. And this is only the beginning Corinne.
    CONGRATULATIONS

  17. Pingback: Winning the May Grantourismo Travel Blogging Competition | Gourmantic

  18. WOW!! incredible. congrats!

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  22. @Gourmantic A taste of the Mediterranean. What a gorgeous sounding day! http://ow.ly/5IkCi

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter.

  23. Hi there,
    I am writing a paper about Mediterranean marine organisms and am chasing photos that I could use with it. Would you have a spare picture of edible urchins or how sea dates are harvested from the rock? I would acknowledge you with name and send you a copy of the publication when it’s available.
    Cheers, Christine

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