Lime for beginnings, lemon for warmth


There’s a wall in the sea in the Somosomo Straits.

60 metres long, 45 deep, it glows an UV white-blue in the filtered sunlight; fish disco amid the luminescent coral.

The plantation gardener sits in the croaking dinghy, line between thumb and index finger. When we clamber up with empty air tanks, there are two fish in the boat: an enormous barramundi for the village, a short fat albacore for us.

At the plantation, the water around the dock is oily with salty and sweet meetings. The rocks are black. The coconut trees grow of out of buffalo grass.

Jon shimmies down the trunk with bounty in hand, chucks it against a rock so the wood hairs sprout from sides.

The rich white is scraped with raspy metal, squeezed by big hands. Clear tuna eyes stare as red flesh is sliced into cubes. Chilli turns into juicy red dust under the blade of an enormous cleaver. Everything ends in a wooden bowl, with the juice of two hard, green limes.

Two fat ladies hold me down and comb knots of out of my hair with coconut oil. By the time they’re finished, the kokoda is on the table: tuna cubes seared grey with sharp citric acid, now swirled with the fresh coconut milk. Fiji in a bowl, accompanied with whispering kerosene lamps and Jon’s ballads on acoustic guitar.

Lime is beginnings and tropical trysts: holidays, the tang of sea wind and street food sweat. Squeezed over halved baby papayas in bare-legged garden breakfasts. Red Chinese New Year packets dangling from potted kalamansis. Condensation rolling down glasses where the sugar syrup sits at the bottom, and the limau kasturi pulp swims.

In Hanoi, when the weather turns, the old ladies by Hoàn Kiếm Lake start wearing their puffer vests during morning tai chi. Hot desserts dot the streets, steam rises from the sweet potato and ginger soup stall. At sidewalk breakfast, there’s extra lime on the table for the clear beef pho: coriander and mint dressed with chilli and dancing memories of summer on a citrus nose.

Green for possibility, yellow for transition.

Lemons are for edges: juiced over grilled meats at charcoal tables, dabbed onto oysters to contrast with its sea-cream, zested over zucchini, basil and ricotta, mellow sourness so your tongue waters at the sides.

Lemons are for warmth when its needed: Mediterranean sunshine brought to a table, baked into butter cakes, woven into sauces for stomach hugs.

The best ones are always the ugliest, hanging with knobbly twigs and twisted leaves, bought from farmers on the branch.

When it drizzles in Athens, there is only one thing to order from autumn menus: lahanodolmades in avgolemono. Tender cabbage leaves wrapped around mince and squidgy rice, precious packages in a a dish of gentle lemon sauce, to be sliced and rolled and lifted dripping to the mouth.

Behind Varvakios market, inside the two chipped doors of Diporto, gypsy kingpins share their chickpeas with folk singers and accountants on glazed butcher’s paper.

The enamel bowls are a symphony of the simple legumes and slow-simmered stock, sifted with a dusting of black pepper. Over the melting fibres, a silver-haired man with uneven nails squeezes half a lemon in his whole fist, and bursts into song.

Meals are shared here, with communal spoons and strangers.

As the skies darken in November, the bitter orange neratzia comes out, grimy branches laden with saffron-shaded globes: it is time for warm coats and honey-infused spirits.

The fragrant shrubs line the streets of the dingiest parts of this ancient town, its citrus bounty turning golden when the winters get cold, when its trees and residents need happiness under the grey.