Sunday, March 12, 2006

MMMMmmmmmm Mangoes..
Yes it might appear if as if I am a bit obsessed with the thought of being able to eat Indian (specifically Alphonso mangoes) here in the US. But I am sure I am not alone. I post an op-ed piece from the Sunday NY Times by Madhur Jaffrey. She says it way better than I do, especially why the mangoes available in American grocery stores don't compare.

March 12, 2006
Op-Ed Contributor
The Fruits of Diplomacy

WHATEVER anyone else might say, America's new nuclear and trade pact with India is a win-win deal. India gets nuclear fuel for its energy needs and America, doing far better in what might be called a stealth victory, finally gets mangoes.
Not those pleasantly hued but lifeless rocks that pass as mangoes in most American grocery stores. Definitely not the fibrous, unyielding, supersized Florida creations that boast long shelf life and easy handling and shipping but little else. They might hint at possibilities but provide no satisfaction.

No. What America will be getting is the King of Fruit, Indian masterpieces that are burnished like jewels, oozing sweet, complex flavors acquired after two millenniums of painstaking grafting. I can just see them arriving at the ports: hundreds of wide baskets lined with straw, the mangoes nestling in the center like eggs lolling in their nests.

These mangoes will be seasonal. Americans will learn to wait for them, just as Indians do. They cannot be pushed to grow in hothouses. Indian mango trees, many of them hundreds of years old (and some reputed to be thousands of years old) need to breathe the same free, fresh air Indians breathe and live through India's three main seasons: summer, the monsoons and winter. Only then will they deign to bear fruit.

They bear their pendulous fruit idiosyncratically, sometimes on one side, sometimes on another and some years, if they are so inclined, not at all. One generous tree in Chandigarh bore about 30,000 pounds of mangoes every year for 150 years until it was hit by lightning. Then it just fell over.

The mango season begins in early May (but alas, the bureaucracy won't move fast enough for us to get them this year). If they come in sufficient quantities, Americans might well learn to associate them with late spring. I can just see a sentence that my grandchild, or yours, might write: "It was the time of cherry blossoms and Indian mangoes ...."

Under this new arrangement, reasonably honest Indian-Americans will no longer have to turn into furtive smugglers to bring mangoes into the country. The one attempt I made was quite unsuccessful. A customs inspector, possibly noting my shifty eyes, asked me quite directly, "Are you carrying any mangoes?" Unable to lie, I had to reply in the affirmative. The mangoes were confiscated.

This would have been bearable had I not been able to peep through a slight crack in the customs office door, a few moments later. The officers were cutting up the mangoes and eating them. That hurt.

Mangoes seem to have originated in prehistory in the northeastern forests that lie near India's border with Myanmar. Buddha was known to have rested under their shady trees. Emperor Akbar (the third of the grand Moguls, ruling from 1556 to 1605), accelerated the process of planting and grafting by laying out a garden with 100,000 trees. The aim in India had always been to get sweet, melt-in-the-mouth, juicy mangoes with as little stringy fiber as possible.

And that is what India has now. Whether you buy the sweet-and-sour pale-skinned langras of Varanasi or the intensely yellow, sweet dussehris of Lucknow or the satiny, heavenly Alphonsos of Ratnagiri near Bombay, what you will be getting are mangoes that man and nature have perfected together. When these same mangoes entered Florida in the 19th century, they were mainly dismissed as "yard" mangoes. Too soft for shipping, they were considered lacking in commercial qualities. So all the fiber that had been bred out of them over thousands of years was bred right back, giving America the hard, pale rocks we see in stores today.

When you get your first Indian mango, perhaps an Alphonso, just hold it in your hand and admire its blushes of reds, yellows and greens. Breathe in its aroma, which will reach out to you through its skin. If it is hard, wrap it in newspaper and set it aside, unrefrigerated, until it yields very slightly to the touch. Mangoes are never "tree-ripened." The hand of man is needed to coax them to their peak. Wash them and refrigerate them. Then when you are ready, tie a napkin around your neck, peel, slice and eat.

So we wait another year, it will be worth it.


Chai Anyone? said...

mangos are awesome! i changed my url please take note!

Chai Anyone? said...

sorry new link is

karmic_jay said...

Noted and updated :-)

Mr. J said...

Maaaaaaaaannnn, I want a Mango now. Damn.. It's got a special place in my heart coz I was born in the 'Mango Season' too.

Right, now I want a Mango.

Silvs said...

I hate those .. Mexican I think? The big fat mangoes .. they don't taste like anything.

Spending the summer with my grandma' I recall, these slimmer .. ones ..they were sooo sweet. but I don't think I ever had Indians one .. maybe i'll look for one, so i can taste it , and share the "obsession"

opinionatedinjerzee said...

Hey, im tagging you!! check out my post about 8 points for the perfect partner... and lets see your list!!!

Ameet said...

I wonder if this'll lead to a whole new mango-gourmet subculture.

Aranyi said...

It is a vivid article!!! Since Ive been away for 5 years without mangoes... I'm very very excited to be in town this mango season. Ive heard that the way to test the coooking skills of a potential daughter in law is to have her roast a papad and cut a mango.
This accounts for my being single :S

karmic_jay said...

LOL.. Nyah. I am sure you will change your status when you think the time is right. The cooking skills things are over rated :-)

Nabeel said...

no mango season yet here in chicago .. can't wait for summer .. we do get mangoes over summer ..

Enyur said...

Yeah no I agree...the mangoes in the Canadian supermarket are nothing compared to the ones in Pakistan/India! Gotta love those mangoes man!!