The Perfect Date
It’s fair to say on my recent trip to Algeria, I went looking for a tender date. Heavens above … no … not what you’re thinking. I mean I went looking for THE date – Deglet-noor - eulogised in Algeria as the ‘queen’ of all dates. The country is the world’s 7th largest producer, yielding 500,000 tons of these sticky fruits each year. But the only one I’d heard of before travelling was the revered Deglet-noor.
I’d heard tales of its mouth-watering translucent flesh thus was salivating with expectation when our group flew down to Timimoun oasis in the Sahara Desert. After all, set in a sea of dunes as rounded and smooth as peaches (not the fruit of my desire), the likes of Timimoun and the surrounding desert oasis, owe their existence to the presence of natural aquifer water that yields countless date palms. My hopes were sky-high.
“Deglet-noor,” mused the marabout religious leader, when I visited the zaouia, a curved whitewashed stone building from the 1600s in Guentour, which acts as a place of religious guidance and education. “We don’t have that date here,” he said. “We have 300 varieties sweetened with our oasis water although none is better than Deglet-noor,” he conceded.
I ate my fill of local dates but learned the object of my desire best grows back to the north of Algeria, around Biskra Province, where its unique taste is flavoured by winds from the Mediterranean Sea and Atlas Mountains. I need not have fretted, however, about missing out. On the penultimate day, I found truckloads of them being supplied to the lively Martyr’s Square market in the capital, Algiers. Bunches of Deglet-noor hung by their branches and retailed for around 600dinar (around £4) per kilo.
I couldn’t wait to get back to my hotel room. Thus, al-fresco, on my first bite I tasted buttery, honeylike sweetness, slightly flaky on the outside but soft and chewy. Every day the sun rises on this breezy Mediterranean city, yet it happens every time you sink your teeth into a Deglet-noor. I had found true love.