Citizens of every mango-growing country I’ve had the good fortune to visit (albeit not necessarily in mango season) claim that their mangoes are the sweetest – the best in the world. Stories abound: a friend of a friend in Egypt who strips naked and gets into his bathtub to eat mangoes (juicy ones, I assume); a Filipino who unknowingly attempted to take a box of mangoes to relatives in the U.S. and when stopped at Customs, sat in the airport and ate the entire box; kids in Uganda who sit in the trees and eat one green mango after another until they become sick; Senegalese who decry the waste of mangoes that fall and rot on the ground for lack of labor to pick them…
This year, we had our first taste of the king of Indian mangoes – the Alphonso – in early April when our friend Deepa Gangwani brought two boxes (a dozen in a box) back to Pondicherry from a business trip to Bombay. It was the beginning of the season, and the mangoes were hit and miss. But oh – the good ones were like nothing you can imagine if you haven’t had these perfect ellipses of orange flesh. (Our friend Bauddhayan Mukherji begs to differ – the mangoes in Calcutta, the himsagar, to be exact, are much sweeter…)
These mangoes are available first in Bombay and are rarely found outside of this city because most of them are exported. (They hadn’t made it to the most expensive market area in Delhi a week ago – “we expect them in two or three days,” but Americans can expect the first shipment ever, this year – mangoes were part of the nuclear trade deal.) Mumbaikers (rich ones) compete to buy the first Alphonsos of the season, when the price per box exceeds US $30 (compared to around $5 in full season). Newspapers carry articles about the arrival of the first crop, much like the heralding of Beaujolais nouveau in France. Entire storefronts, or sidewalks, or pushcarts, are given over to the sale of the fruit, which are the only things in India that I have seen that are packed and transported with care. (They arrive in wooden crates packed with straw and are then transferred into cardboard boxes, again packed mostly with straw.) Vendors hawk them to passing motorists at busy intersections. Mango lassi, juice, and milkshake stalls pop up around every train station and in every micro neighborhood. Fast food joints and restaurants print special menus for the season, to include mango items such as amras (mango pulp made from up to three different varieties of mango, including Alphonso (Hafus in the local lingo), Payari, and Langda, which is either eaten on its own, or with deep fried poori), keri panna (green mango drink which is a lot sweet, a little bit salty, and with a bit of masala – cumin powder, I think), mango rasgolla, mango tart, mango mousse, mango kheer (rice pudding), and something unappetizingly called mango “cheese” (maybe they meant “cheesecake” – something like mango shrikhand) at Biona in Bandra.
While Alphonsos are in season, and we happen to be in Bombay, we’ll indulge ourselves at every opportunity – the only saving grace to the heat and humidity we are enduring.