Summer is drawing to a close and so is my favorite seasonal fruit – the mango. While the Mexican mangoes or those sourced from other countries can be picked from most supermarkets’ shelves, the exquisite varieties of seasonal Indian and Pakistani mangoes have now practically disappeared from the local ethnic grocery stores.
My readers from the Subcontinent well know what I am talking about. Widely accepted as the “King of Fruits”, the mango indeed stands head and shoulders over other drupe because of the very wide range of flavors, textures and tastes it offers. Alphonso – whether Hapus, Ratnagiri (from Maharashtra) or Badami (from Karnataka) is generally considered by most Indians as an exceptional (and in price it certainly is!) mango. Each strain has its very own rich, creamy texture and flavor. Some of my other favourite varieties include the Chausa, Dussehri, Langra and the Neelam.
One does not simply eat a mango; its consumption is an art form, or some might argue even a culture! As a young lad growing up in India in the early 1960s, the refrigerator was not yet a standard kitchen appliance in our middle-class home. We would send the servant to buy a “barf ki silli” (block of ice) from the “ice factory” in the market, usually once in the morning and again, late afternoon. The ice would be wrapped in old cotton towels or hessian gunny (burlap) sacks and placed on a thick jute “taat” (mat) in a dark, cool corner of the kitchen to slow down the melting process. Iron picks with wooden handles were used to chip off little pieces of ice to cool a drink, or larger pieces broken off to be dunked in a small tub filled with water into which we would drop the mangoes. Eventually, after what seemed like a very long wait, an adult would announce that the fruit was ready to be served. An old, colored table cloth, curtain or bedsheet would be spread on the floor and all the kids instructed to sit in a circle. A tray laden with mangoes would be brought and placed in the centre while another empty tray for discarded peels and mango seeds would be placed alongside. A few pots filled with water and some old hand towels would also be provided to ensure that mango juice running down grubby young hands was wiped clean and did not mess up the furniture.
I recall a favorite uncle, who would sit down and each of us would scramble to try and sit close to him. He would reach out and pick up a mango. “This one is for …” he would say and deliberately pause while each of us screamed, “Me!” Smilingly indulgently he would impartially pick one of us as the recipient of the fruit. We would then be asked how we wanted the mango served. The simplest way was to slice the fruit length wise from top to bottom on either side of the seed in the centre, creating two halves and a seed covered with pulp. The two halved could be peeled, sliced or diced according to the diner’s preference. Another favorite method was to slice a mango all round its circumference and with a flourish, twist and separate the two halves leaving us to clamor over who would have the one with the embedded seed, to get that extra helping of fruit. My own view is that mangoes are best enjoyed by “choosanaa” (sucking). First, the fruit is gently and evenly squeezed all around with fingertips until its juice oozes out at the top. Then, after biting off a small portion of the skin the lips are placed around the tiny hole and the juice sucked out while simultaneously pressing the mango with both hands. Gradually, as the mango juice is depleted, the outer skin is peeled and the pulp eaten off the seed while managing to hold it from slipping through juice-dripping wet fingers. This is the most enjoyable, albeit a very messy way to enjoy a mango!
Several years ago, when establishing our Multicultural Banking at the Bank to tap the Newcomers to Canada market segment, we wished to help our internal stakeholders gain a better appreciation of the diverse cultures and communities. A team-member from Pakistan came up with the wonderful idea of hosting a “mango festival” where we invited our colleagues from other areas of the Bank to explore and enjoy the art of eating mangoes with us! It proved a great ice-breaker and a fun way to experience others’ cultural practices.
The legendary Urdu poet of Delhi, Mirza Assadullah Khan Ghalib (died 1869) loved food and drink but is said to have been particularly fond of mangoes and would consume any amount available, in a single sitting. It is said that one evening Mirza Ghalib and some friends, including one Raziuddin Khan were sitting in the front courtyard of his house eating mangoes, with Ghalib waxing eloquent on the qualities of this fruit. A man with his donkey happened to pass by. There was a small pile of discarded mangoes and mango peels thrown by some passersby on the street. The donkey stopped momentarily and after sniffing at the mangoes and the peels, turned away without taking a single bite. Knowing Ghalib’s weakness for mangoes, Hakim Raziuddin Khan pleasantly taunted his friend, saying,
“Dekhā ‘Ghālib, pataa nahīñ tumheñ aam haiñ kyuuñ itne bhaate
arrey, aam to gadhe tak nahīñ khaate”
“Look Mirza! Wonder why do mangoes attract you so
When even donkeys choose to let them go!”
Quick came the rejoinder from Mirza Ghalib
“Haañ huzūr aap sach hī haiñ farmaate
be-shak, gadhe aam nahīñ khaate”
“Yes, Sire you are indeed right in saying so,
Surely, mangoes only donkeys do forego!”