Tangy Tangerine

Tangy Tangerine

Aylin Öney Tan - aylinoneytan@yahoo.com
Tangy Tangerine

AA photo

The citrus world surely fascinates all us human beings. I have a particular fondness to all kinds of citrus; the perfect balance of sweetness and tanginess is the ideal taste combination a fruit should have, but it is the haunting smell of the peel that makes all citrus irresistible. The winner in the citrus family must be the tangerine, the reddish orange variety of mandarin oranges. 

Even the word tingles my mind. When it comes to tangerines, I cannot help but think of two books that I always enjoy browsing through while eating a tangerine. One was, as its name suggests, bought initially for its title, “Travels with a Tangerine,” a travelogue written by Tim Mackintosh-Smith, a scholar in Arabic, who followed the trail of Ibn Battuta, the great Arab traveler who set out from his native Tangier in 1325, starting a long journey of 30 years. Tangerines were named after Tangier, but unfortunately the great Arab traveler could never have tasted them in his home city, but he might have enjoyed them in China, as they were not yet available in the Mediterranean back in the 1400’s. 

The second book is by M.F.K. Fisher, “Serve it Forth,” where her essay “Borderland” includes the best writing on peeling a tangerine. How can one who has read this great piece peel a tangerine without thinking of M.F.K. Fisher? This week I’m cheating a bit, actually not daring to write a single word on tangerines, but copying the piece, to remember how to enjoy a tangerine. Now take a tangerine, sit back and read slowly as you peel it, inhaling its magical perfume and savoring the literary magic of M.F.K. Fisher. 

“In the morning, in the soft sultry chamber, sit in the window peeling tangerines, three or four. Peel them gently; do not bruise them, as you watch soldiers pour past and past the corner and over the canal towards the watched Rhine. Separate each plump little pregnant crescent. If you find the Kiss, the secret section, save it for Al.

Listen to the chambermaid thumping up the pillows, and murmur encouragement to her thick Alsatian tales of l’interieure. That is Paris, the interior, Paris or anywhere west of Strasbourg or maybe the Vosges. While she mutters of seduction and French bicyclists who ride more than wheels, tear delicately from the soft pile of sections each velvet string. You know those pulpy white strings that hold the tangerines to their skins? Tear them off. Be careful.

Take yesterday’s paper (when we were in Strasbourg L’Ami du Peuple was best, because when it got hot the ink stayed on it) and spread it on top of the radiator. The maid has gone, of course - it might be hard to ignore her belligerent Alsatian glare of astonishment.

After you have put the pieces of tangerine on the paper on the hot radiator, it is best to forget about them. Al comes home, you go to a long noon dinner in the brown dining-room, afterwards maybe you have a little nip of quetsch from the bottle on the armoire. Finally he goes. You are sorry, but.
On the radiator the sections of tangerines have grown even plumper, hot and full. You carry them to the window, pull it open, and leave them for a few minutes on the packed snow of the sill. They are ready.

All afternoon you can sit, then, looking down on the corner. Afternoon papers are delivered to the kiosk.

Children come home from school just as three lovely whores mince smartly into the pension’s chic tearoom.

A basketful of Dutch tulips stations itself by the tram-stop, ready to tempt tired clerks at six o’clock. Finally the soldiers stump back from the Rhine. It is dark.

The sections of the tangerine are gone, and I cannot tell you why they are so magical. Perhaps it is that little shell, thin as one layer of enamel on a Chinese bowl, that crackles so tinily, so ultimately under your teeth.

Or the rush of cold pulp just after it. Or the perfume. I cannot tell.

There must be someone, though, who understands what I mean. Probably everyone does, because of his own secret eatings.”

Bite of the Week

Fork of the Week:
The thing that made me write (or not write) about tangerines this week was a sorbet of clementine at Fauna. Chef/owner İbrahim Tuna has re-opened his restaurant in Ataşehir on the Anatolian side of Istanbul and he makes undoubtedly the best pasta dishes in town. Fauna was on my priority list all year, but I could only visit the place last Saturday. Now, I regret I did not go earlier. Everything we tasted was perfect, but it was the magical citrusy sorbet that made me think about tangerines. The small restaurant is closed on Sundays and Mondays, open only for lunch between Tuesday-Thursday, dinner is served only on Friday and Saturday (a reservation is required for dinners). It is worth the trip; do not miss the sorbet of oranges or clementine. www.fauna.com.tr/

Cork of the Week:
Hard to find in Turkey, but worth investing in a bottle of, is undoubtedly Mandarin Napoléon, the great Belgian invention. Instead, make a cocktail with freshly squeezed tangerines; one part juice, one part Campari, one part gin; serve over three cubes of ice, enjoy!