An unlikley but refreshing marriage of watermelon and clams in Hainan’s must-try soup
No one knows fruits better than the people of Hainan. On this island where a wide variety of tropical plants are available all year round, fruits are not only healthy snacks, but also essential ingredients in local dishes. Islanders’ creativity shines through their fruit recipes: deep-fried banana, toasted durian, salted lemon juice, mango dipped in soy sauce, and all kinds of meat stewed in coconut water...but among them, the watermelon clam soup is a must-try in summer.
Hainan locals proudly recommend this appetizer, dubbed as “the number one soup in Hainan,” as a specialty they’ve enjoyed since childhood. Its origin is untraceable, but enjoying sweet juicy watermelon and fresh seafood sounds like a no-brainer during the island’s sweltering summer months. Boiling both in the same pot might sound too adventurous to some tourists, but locals say they are a perfect match, as the ingredients bring out the best in one other—a unique savory taste that makes your tastebuds dance.
In-season ingredients, including watermelon, clam, and shrimp, are key to this dish. Like almost all the other Hainan food, the watermelon clam soup is lightly seasoned, highlighting as much of the original flavors of the ingredients as possible. The most authentic recipe uses a local variety of watermelon, which weighs only about 1 kilogram. Local Chronicle of Gan’en County (《感恩县志》), a historical record published in the Qing dynasty (1616 – 1911), calls these fist-sized melons “西瓜仔,” literally “baby watermelon.” As the chronicle describes, these melons can have three different colors of flesh—red, white, and yellow—with the red being the most delicious. Today, they are still easy to find in local markets in Hainan.
Smart foodies use the rind instead of the flesh to make the soup, a practice which locals trace back to when times were tough. While trying to feed the family and leaving no ingredients to waste, people discovered the delicate taste of boiled watermelon rind.
There are two common methods of preparing this soup, catering to different preferences. The first method calls for pickling sliced watermelon rind with salt for a few days before cooking in order to create a savory and acidic flavor, which can enhance the taste of the clam. The second method uses fresh melons, even with a bit of red flesh attached, to make the soup refreshing and sweet. If you prepare the soup like so, it will come out slightly red.
Of course, if you can’t get your hands on a “baby watermelon,” regular watermelons will do. Summer is coming–it’s time to wake up your senses with your own watermelon clam soup!
- Soak the clams in fresh water for half an hour and use a firm brush to scrub off the additional sand and other inedible substances. Clean the shrimps.
- Cut the watermelon into slices and cut off the dark green skin.
- Depending on your taste, remove all the watermelon flesh or keep some on the rind. Cut the rind into thin slices.
- Mince the garlic.
- Heat oil in a wok, then add the garlic and fry until fragrant.
- Add watermelon rind to the wok. Pan-fry for about two minutes.
- Fill the wok halfway with water and heat it up. When the soup boils, add the clams and shrimps and keep boiling until the clam shells open.
- Add salt to taste and serve.
The Taste of Summer: Learn to Make Delicious Watermelon Soup is a story from our issue, “Lessons For Life.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.