In England, a lime is a lime.
You could bet on the Queen’s head that if you asked a bar tender for a slice to perk up your gin and tonic that he’s not going to come back to you and ask you which type you’d like.
In India, things are different. I’ve come across no less than four different types of lime here (and betting is mostly illegal).
There is the peoples’ champion and everyday favourite which we will just call ‘lime’, then there is the large elongated ‘gandharaj’, the Bengali lime. Gandha meaning ‘fragrance’ and raj meaning ‘king’ – it gives off a heady fragrance so strong that just one can perfume a whole room. Then, finally, there is the ‘bijora’, an ugly, nobbled brute of a citrus fruit which is used almost exclusively for making pickles in Gujarat.
But my latest discovery is the glorious ‘sweet lime’, otherwise known as ‘mosambi’ or ‘citrus limetta’ if you speak the latin language of gardening, which I came across on my first day living in Bombay. It winked at me in the sunshine, I think, or at least I noticed that it has a lovely tight, glossy light light-rebounding skin.
Botanically speaking, it looks like a lime which has swallowed a cricket ball in that it is spherical and similarly sized. Like most citrus fruits it’s in season in the Winter and you can tell whether it’s ripe by sticking a (scrupulously clean) fingernail into its skin and holding fire for a second to see if a cloud of exotic lime scented perfume bursts forth into the air.
You can peel it like an orange and inside are opalescent pale yellow shimmering beads of juiciness caged in segments. Bite, suck and nibble and be amazed. Yes, at first a sweet lime, like the name helpfully suggests. A second bite and I realize I’m eating the god of all citrus fruits.
The actual flavour is somewhere between a wild tropical night drinking mojitos in Mexico city and a sugared grapefruit eaten at for breakfast in an elegant hotel: the flavours balance themselves perfectly. No sticky and syrupy sweetness that oranges sometimes have and no overt face-contorting sourness that a lemon gives – but the most level headed and serene fruit I’ve ever eaten.
I couldn’t have picked a better metaphor for India or a more refreshing thing to eat in this 30 degree heat. I bought a few and started conjuring up recipes on route home.
Just imagine the remarkable flavour of this fruit as a dressing for a salad! Sweet lime could dance with some fiery chillies! Sing a cheesy 80’s Barry Manilow song with some seabass! Oh it would tickle squid and slap tongues in sorbets!
I asked my Maharastian friends what they do with them, answer: just eat them. I leafed through recipes books in bookshops and found nothing and noted a pathetic drizzle of online contributions too.
I’ll create something magnificent, I thought, and with that I ate one by one and just like that because they are completely perfect just by themselves.