On summer

For some reason, I’ve started chipping my teeth.

I went to see my dentist - with whom I have a long-standing annual Valentine’s Day engagement - on an emergency basis, during Wimbledon.

As he and I watched the lithe Chinese number two seed get knocked out on his ceiling-mounted television, I sought advice.

What can I do to stop my teeth falling out, I asked.

“Meditate,” he answered.

It turns out I grind my teeth. From stress, Dr K believes, compounded with self-inflicted structural weakness. So the bits of my incisors falling off at will can all be traced back to the first critical crunch.

It was a crab claw in Maputo, eaten cold, with a dollop of tangy mayo on a 16th floor balcony: one of those scarlet shells, thicker than a bread plate and equally solid.

I remember thinking, at the time, it was all worth it.

My Mozambican crab love affair has known no bounds. The best I’ve had was out of town, north of the capital, in the Bairra dos Pescadores, a cluster of fishermen’s huts, next to their dhows.

We went for fish, but that Thursday they hadn’t caught any, so I bought a dozen enormous mud crabs, the size of rugby balls, pulled out of fresh malarial waters, instead.

I asked the woman in the shipping container next door - I’ve long since forgotten her name, but not her peri peri sauce - to boil them whole. Served straight out of the pot, between steaming bowls of garlicky amêijoa, whose shells were emptied into the sea, I cracked off scalding carapaces with impatient fingers, pulling apart the crab flesh, mouthfuls of meat, sweet and tender, flaking into the smear of sour chili oil.

We ate everything: clusters of glistening roe in shades of deepening tangerine, scooped fingerfuls the creamy mustard-coloured tomalley, the briny juice, slurped from the shell.

For the squeamish, tomalley or “crab fat” is to be scraped and discarded; for others, the indulgently rich and ever-so-slightly bitter lusciousness - a flavour that recalls fresh sea urchin - is to be rolled around your mouth and relished.

The Japanese turn it into kani miso, cooked with the shell as pan, directly over the flame, with a splash of sake.

In town, I found cheap caranguejo natural at Escorpião, a tiled, fluroescent-lit affair, next to the tarp-shrouded bumper cars and neon lights of the Feira Popular, where I learned the phrase “Eu quero o caranguejo inteiro, con cabeza e tudo”: I want the whole crab, with the head and all.

Its savoury-sweetness, with a whiff of a nearby sea, is my summer: the simplicity, the leisurely table conversation as you pick through shards of shell for every morsel, the promise of lingering, balmy nights and chill sauce.

In England, summer is ripe strawberries and cold pork pies, eaten on the grass with topless financiers in parks at lunchtime; cold apple cider in leafy pub gardens.

In Australia, summer is oysters on ice for Christmas lunch, a bottle of Little Creatures pale ale with its floral nose and whole prawns on the barbecue, shells charring in the heat. Glasses of sparkling shiraz on the riverbank, Queensland mangoes that squirt sticky juice down your arm.

In Greece, summer emerges with the appearance of armirikia - the new shoots of a wild, coastal shrub, succulent and crisp - in the neighbourhood laiki, amid the stalls of courgette flowers and early figs. One inventive Athenian taverna adds a scoop of taramosalata to the boiled greens, tangled in a bowl of cold-pressed olive oil and fresh lemon.

It is a time for iced ouzo, backgammon and piles of tiny deep fried pink shrimp.

In South Africa, summer is heralded by Taste magazine making its cover blue or green or yellow and adding more water droplets to its photographs of vegetables. As the jacarandas come into bloom, turning our highveld cities into a purple haze, we celebrate sunshine, lightning storms and mellow nights by eating what we do all year round, just outdoors.

Seasonal menus are the province of starched-white-tablecloth establishments, regarded as innovative luxury. The middle-class masses will eat pasta carbonara with UHT cream in malls, while sniffing repotted jasmine and remarking on “the scent of summer”.

One day, more of South Africa’s lush blueberries, oranges and avocados will be eaten at home, instead of being flown to Sainsbury’s.

And one day, perhaps local, seasonal produce will be a mainstay of all dinner tables too.

Bairra dos Pescadores, 25°54’12.9"S 32°39’33.8"E
Escorpião, +258 21 302 180
Little Creatures, littlecreatures.com.au
To Mavro Provato, Athens, +30 21 0722 3466, www.tomauroprovato.gr