9 August 2010

The Barbary fig seller (Opuntia ficus-indica)

In mid-summer, it is a common sight to see a man wheeling a make-shift barrow walking around the residential streets of Tunis yelling out "hendi! hendi!".  He is selling Barbary figs known as prickly pears in English, Figue de Barbarie in French and hendi in Arabic.  It is also known by the nickname of (Soltan-el-ghalla) in Arabic.  Its scientific name is Opuntia ficus-indicaThe Barbary fig is an oval shaped perennial species of cactus.  Like most cacti, it has spines and a prickly skin and is rather fiddly to peel hence the reason why it is not usually sold at the green grocers.  I've seen people stopping the hendi seller in the street and buying either a single piece of fruit or up to a dozen or more which the seller peels for them with great ease and dexterity. 

Figure 1:  Barbary figs/prickly pears (Opuntia ficus-indica) growing in the wild.

Figure 2:  Barbary figs/prickly pears (Opuntia ficus-indica)

  Figure 3:  A close up photograph of Barbary figs/prickly pears (Opuntia ficus-indica) growing in the wild.

Figure 4: Barbary figs/prickly pears (Opuntia ficus-indica) growing in the wild.

Figure 5:  Mature Barbary figs ready to eat on sale at our local greengrocer, this photo was taken in late September.  The season for this fruit appears to extend from July until September.

Barbary figs/prickly pears can be eaten as a piece of fresh fruit, made into marmalades or juiced.  It has many health benefits.  The juice is said to lower blood glucose and decrease cholestrol levels.  It has antioxidants and contains many essential vitamins and minerals and is also high in dietary fiber.  While selecting the fruit, avoid those which are soft or have dark soft spots on them. You will need to peel the fruit and remove all the spines before using it for cooking or making fruit juice.

A leaf from my English - Italian calendar for 2010 had the following statement, it was quite apt so I thought I would include it in this blog post.  In Sicilia and Tunisia there are plenty of prickly pears - "In Sicilia e Tunisia ci sono moltissimi fichi d'India".
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