The Japanese are a strange group of people. Their obsession with perfection can be so infuriatingly intense that very often it creates a whole new set of market values for seemingly simple things - the worst case of which spoils the market and makes it difficult for simple mortals like most of us to partake in some of the most wonderful experiences available.
When I was in Tokyo for a business trip in April, my Japanese colleague had introduced me to the most expensive fruit shop in Japan when we were switching trains at Nihonbashi. Having been established for 120 years, Senbikiya is not your ordinary fruit shop. It prides itself in offering the most popular, the highest quality, the most exotic and last but not least, the most expensive fruits in Japan (and possibly in the world !). Fueled by the unique Japanese fruit gifting culture, Senbikiya continues to thrive and has become the emblematic brand in luxury fruit gifting for the wealthy and powerful. The musk melon pointed out to me by my colleague was perched on a pedestal. A perfect round Melon with the price tag resting boldly at the foot of the pedestal that read 21,000Yen - which was roughly equivalent to US$200. My eyes widened in disbelief and I remembered I had immediately snapped a photo with my Black Berry and messaged it to L.
I have never really liked honey dews, or similar melons. I would normally give them a miss at breakfast buffet tables for I feel that these fruits are tasteless and has a sickly funny smell. L, however seems to appreciate it more. He had told me he used to make it a point to lug a couple of musk melons home from Tokyo whenever he was there for business meetings - whatever for? I could never understand. He had urged me to try the fruit at least once, suggesting that I look for the US$50 varieties which are already very good. Then, at least I would have earned the right to brag about it - he continued to cajole. Of course I didn't listen to him! So silly to lug a big melon home - I prefer to use that luggage weight allowance to get a couple more baking trays!
Anyway, that was in April. Then, recently, as I was shopping at the local Japanese supermarket, Isetan here, I spotted some imported musk melons, normally priced at S$79 (about USD50) on 30% discount. I supposed these had already ripened hence the supermarket was in a hurry to sell them off... I hesitated just a little, before I decided that this would be a good opportunity to try it and find out what all the fuss was about.
The symmetrically round melon with a lovely mesh-like pattern and a singular horizontal stalk was a picture of perfection. L had told me that the denser and the more defined the mesh-like pattern is, the more costly the fruit would be. I cut the fruit in half to expose a tender green colour in the flesh. As I had suspected, this was getting ripe hence some part of the flesh was already showing some transparency. However, what caught my attention first was the sweet elegant fragrance of the fruit. The flesh was so juicy that I had to hover over the sink when I bite into it. (the Japanese would faint if they knew that I had dug into the prized fruit in such an uncivilised manner!) The sweet flavour was totally unlike the honeydew and rock melon that we usually get here! The copious amount of juice makes this an extremely cooling fruit to eat - as cooling as a watermelon. In addition, the sweet floral perfume of the fruit indicates that it has been preferentially nourished by mother nature. I had read somewhere that one of the reasons why this was so expensive is because each tree would only produce one fruit. During cultivation, the farmers, apparently would trim the vines of the tree to only allow 3 fruits to blossom. When these baby melons grow to about fist size, the farmers would select the most promising melon and cut off the other 2 in order to channel and lavish all the nutrients on the one singular melon that would be nurtured to eventually become the $200 Prized Musk Melon. Such is the Japanese's fixation on perfection!
It wouldn't be right if I don't blog about this rare possession. However, it is after all, to the Japanese, the King of the Fruits - hence as much as I would like to work with it, I couldn't bear to detract the carefully cultivated taste with excesses such as cream or milk. I found a simple Japanese dessert recipe that requires the fruit puree to be mixed with gelatine and a little sugar and a dash of lemon juice and whipped to a foamy jelly. I used about 1/8 of the melon for 2 little cups of this dessert and saved the rest for pure enjoyment.... and yes, I can now brag that I have eaten the prized Japanese Musk Melon and I would even dare to go to the extent to say that the Japanese Musk Melon would be the only type of honeydew melon I would eat from now onwards! (no, I am not being snooty - remember I don't touch honeydew or rock melons to start with.) If you have the opportunity, indulge at least once and, as L had said, you would then have earned the rights to brag about it!
Gelatine Powder 8g
Lemon Juice 1 tbsp
1. Blend the melon in a blender to form a puree.
2. Heat puree to warm to break down enzyme and cool down.
3. Mix gelatine with 50cc of water. Set aside.
4. In a heavy pot, add water and sugar and heat to dissolve. Remove from heat and add (3) and ensure gelatine is completely dissolved. Add lemon juice.
5. Add (4) to (2) , mix well and refrigerate for 1 hour. Whip the refrigerated mixture with an electric mixer over a bowl of ice water until fine foam is formed.
6. Spoon into cups and refrigerate till set.