Living in Greece

A practical guide to moving, living, working & traveling in Greece, plus musing and misadventures from an American in Athens

Archive for September, 2008

How to choose a watermelon (karpouzi)

Many people in Greece count the number of swims as a measure of how good summer was to them. I count the number of watermelons to judge how sweet or hot my summer was.*

How to choose a watermelon (karpouzi)

In my opinion, the best place to get a watermelon is from a neighborhood green grocer (manavis) because they have the freshest produce and a lot of turnover.

Farmer’s markets (laiki) are not always sure bets since some vendors carry watermelons from town to town; some established roadside stands next to a field are OK (see Comments). Grocery stores are fine, especially if: a) you’re short on time; b) you’re single and the store will cut one to fit in your mini fridge; or c) you’re on foot and it’s the closest location. Walking home and uphill with a 10-kilo watermelon in your arms is no easy task! I’ve done it more than once in 39°C weather and don’t wish to repeat the experience.

Purchasing from a stationary or roving watermelon truck — you know, the dude who yells incomprehensible stuff over a loudspeaker — is sometimes a risk because you don’t know if these are rejects from city farmer’s markets (laiki) or how long they’ve been baking in the sun, though it is convenient for people who are far from town without a vehicle or physically unable to lift, carry or travel long distances.

No matter where you get a watermelon, it comes down to selecting a ripe, fresh one. How do you do that?

1. Look for a yellow or cream-colored spot
Every watermelon has a non-photogenic, non-green side that sat on the ground to grow (see above photo) — if it’s yellow, it’s ripe. Watermelons don’t ripen once picked, so it’s essential to find one that was picked at its peak.

2. Look for a stem that is still green
The greener the stem, the fresher the watermelon. If it’s brown, dried and shriveled, it might still be OK if #1 and #3 are true, but more likely it’s been sitting around and may soon turn mealy. You can still eat the watermelon or use it for sorbet and popsicles if it’s slightly mealy, but it’s not at its peak freshness.

Warning: If the grocer has purposely cut off the stem, (s)he is trying to trick you into buying a bad or old watermelon.

3. Pick it up and feel if it’s heavy
I realize all watermelons are heavy, but it should seem weighty for its size because you’re looking for high water content. i.e., A melon we purchased was 14 kilos, which seemed like a lot because it looked small. If it’s light or average, it might be drying up inside.

4. Listen for a high-pitched hollow sound
When thumping a watermelon, it should not thump; it should sound high pitched like hitting a tight drum. If you don’t understand what to listen for, feel free to skip this step and use the other three tips.

Some people talk about symmetry or looking at the lines of the watermelon; I’ve found that it makes absolutely no difference. Others say to scrape or look at the dullness or shininess of a rind, but that’s not a good indicator either if the rind has been waxed or treated.

Usually, if #1 and #2 are true, you don’t need to go any further. I’ve chosen many wonderful watermelons using only the first two criteria and using the last two as experiments. All have been sweet, all have been ripe, all have been fresh.

When cutting it, I recommend starting on the stem side if you intend to stand it up in the fridge. It’s flatter on the non-stem side.

* We ate a record 19 watermelons one summer because our ex-apartment logged an indoor temperature of 92°F (33°C) or higher every day, as it was uninsulated, on the top floor, and the air conditioner broke. We moved and bought a new AC unit since then. I also favor watermelon over sugary “juice” from Tetra Paks that many people are inexplicably crazy for in Greece, which is why I’m eating them well into October.

Interesting facts

  • In ” Όλα με το μαχαίρι,” Greek newspaper Ta Nea reminds us that the Greek word for watermelon is υδροπέπων (ydropepon) — hydro (water), pepon (melon). So where did the word karpouzi come from? The Turkish word for watermelon is karpuz.
  • Watermelon has lycopene, which helps the skin on your face look smoother, tighter and moisturized. Combined with cherries and nectarines, the skin stands a better chance against the sun though they’re not substitutes for a minimum SPF 15 lotion to fight the effects of aging. See “Eat These 3 Fruits for Great Summer Skin.”

Watermelon sorbet

Near the end of the season, I have perfectly good watermelon sitting around because I can’t eat a 15-kilo monster on my own. That’s when the watermelon sorbet recipe comes out, and I put a little bit of summer in the freezer. I also make watermelon syrup for homemade soda.


3/4 cup (175 ml) sugar or fructose* (Splenda does not work well)
3/4 cup (175 ml) water
3 1/2 cups (830 ml)  chopped watermelon pulp without seeds
1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh lemon juice
Ice cream maker
Reusable ice cream container or Tupperware (or eat it all!)

*The amount of sugar/fructose should be adjusted according to the sweetness of the watermelon and your personal taste.


1. Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan, bring to a boil over high heat, then lower heat, cover and gently boil for 4 minutes. Cool, then chill syrup well in the refrigerator.

2. Puree the watermelon in a blender. The end result should net 2 1/2 cups (590 ml); use more watermelon if needed.

3. Combine watermelon puree, sugar syrup and lemon juice.  (I chill again after combining; having the coldest possible ingredients is ideal when making ice cream or sorbet)

4. Pour into the ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can also put the mixture in a shallow metal pan, put it in the freezer and beat/scrape it every half hour or so.

Makes 1 quart and is best eaten right away. Recipe based on Beat This! by Anne Hodgman, a staple in my kitchen

Photos from (sorbet) and (watermelon)

In the News

Watermelon thieves saved from well by Greek police” – Telegraph
Looters hide Greek antiquities in watermelons” – BBC
Immigrants found in watermelon truck” – Reuters
Watermelon and melon producers protest prices” — Kathimerini
Siamese watermelon of Larissa, Greece” — Eleftherotypia
Smugglers hide migrants in watermelon truck” — Eleftherotypia
Simple ways to stay cool in the heat” — Ta Nea

Other recipes

Remix your gazpacho with watermelon and feta” — Bon Appetit
Seven unique ways to use watermelon” — Fox News

Related posts

10 Easy ways to save the planet
Remembering Mr. Takis
10 Tips for saving money on food

* Article updated June 28, 2014

How I spent my Greek summer vacation

Most people who vacation in Greece have tales of equal parts debauchery and zen, great food and swimming in emerald seas. Not me.

After 10 years of enjoying peace and quiet during the city summer exodus, I’d been looking forward to more of the same by staying in Athens in August. Turns out my waiting was in vain. My list of “Pros and cons of Athens in August” doesn’t apply to coastal suburbs. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

As Betabug and I wrote previously, Athenian neighborhoods are typically empty.  Seaside? Not true. The vast majority of my neighbors – affluent or not – never went anywhere. Even the paliatzi and karpouzia trucks continue to circle like vultures. For the few that did leave, there were plenty of residents from the center and visitors from abroad to take their place because…

Nothing is closed. Clubs and cafes are pulsing on beaches only minutes away, boats jockeying for position, and the manavis, bakeries and grocery stores open. That means plenty of traffic, crowds of roasters and frenzied shoppers grabbing items like “it’s the last day of their lives” in the words of my fiancé. Well, at least our electricity and water weren’t cut like last summer, and we got to spend quality time with good friends.

On August 15, the only one sleeping was the Theotokos. Our next-door neighbor decided 7:00 was the perfect time to mow his lawn, and another fired up his chainsaw at 8:00. The streets were not empty, as is often the case in the kentro.

And if you’re wondering why I didn’t get the Hellas out of here and put myself out of my misery, it’s because both our bosses gave us last-minute notice that we were literally forced to take 2 weeks vacation. (Is it truly a vacation if you didn’t want to go?) Therefore, we had no way to plan or book anything without paying a fortune, and we both hate traveling in August because of the heat and crowds; the only time I’ve traveled in August in the past 9 years was to attend my brother’s wedding.

So for this period of rest and relaxation, I was presented with two lovely and equally enticing punishments packages:

a) “His vacation is my incarceration”: Stay home and do double the cleaning and cooking in a 32C (90F) kitchen because my male counterpart does little of the former (and even less while “HE’S on vacation”) and none of the latter, work on contracted projects and sleep on the couch because the bedroom is a furnace;

b) “Build by day, have breakdown by night”: Accept my future father-in-law’s invitation to the village where 10 days of renovation projects, a sleeping room with 3 other people, no AC and “the thing” (summer edition) awaited us.

In addition to package ‘a’ and sweating bullets, I dug up 5 years worth of documents — and the unpleasant memories they conjured — to prepare to file a lawsuit against someone in Greece who owes me a great deal of money, and attended a funeral.

So did anything go on vacation? Well, aside from our 3G connection (now fixed) and my sanity, the sweet gionis departed for greener pastures. Maybe he went to his village to find a mate since this seaside suburb hasn’t lived up to the hype. Lucky little nightbird. 🙂

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Roasting season is upon us
Give me a break!

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