It’s mandarin season here in Australia. I love mandarins — so easy to peel and so delicious. Many years ago, during the year I spent backpacking, I spent a month or two island-hopping in Greece. If ever you go to Greece, make sure that as well as the mainland, you visit some of the islands — each one is different and beautiful. When I was travelling, it was out of tourist season and everyone was so friendly.
I remember getting off the ferry at Kalymnos and all along the seafront there were sea sponges on display—Kalymnos is famous for its sea sponges—but there were also mounds of brilliant orange mandarins for sale. I bought some mandarins, and they were so delicious I went straight back and bought some more.
I spent about a week exploring that beautiful island, and every day I just ate mandarins for breakfast and lunch. Dinner was lamb and salad or some kind of seafood and salad. One evening I ate octopus that had been pulled out of the sea that morning. Up until then I’d avoided octopus, but I figured part of the experience of travel was to eat what the locals did, and since I’d watched a young boy catching one, I decided the time had come. I have to say it was delicious. (Though the suckers were a little off-putting at first.)
The mandarins were glorious and it was also my first taste of a seedless variety. Every place I traveled on that island, there were groves of citrus trees and olive trees—it was very unspoiled and agricultural back then.
I also bought a large sea-sponge, which I still own. And on the ferry leaving that island, which was an overnighter—I forget which island I was going to next—I was put in a cabin to share with a local woman and a couple of little kids. She wasn’t all that pleased, I think, at having a foreign backpacker in the cabin, but I’d brought a pile of mandarins with me and I gave some to her kids. She warmed right up after that, and she gave me a sponge, which I have also kept. It’s the one on the right — not “sales quality” I suppose, but I love it all the same.
It was a long time ago, but even now, when the first mandarins of the season arrive, I often think of that beautiful island and the delicious mandarins they grew. By the way, I bought the dolphin bowl in the photo above that same year when I was visiting Corfu (Kerkyra). It’s one of a pair, and I managed to bring them both home in my backpack, undamaged, even with all those gorgeous pointy edges. Looking back I’m quite impressed that I managed it.