Mangoes: the thought itself is salivating enough for many. I remember during my childhood having a whole meal consisting entirely of mangoes. And I have still not satiated my desire to continue doing the same. Though with time and inflation it is not always the most apt thing to do. There are other excellent tropical fruits available in India, like litchis, guavas, jackfruit, all of which are pretty good by their own right and for some papayas too. But truly speaking, mangoes are the king of fruits and the fruit befitting kings.
Mangoes and India: if there is any fruit synonymous with India, it is mangoes! I have heard about other countries producing mangoes too and good ones at that. Notable among them is Philippines. Filipinos pride themselves on having some of the best mangoes in the world it would seem. I would not venture a contest to that claim since I have not tasted them yet. However, the mangoes that we find in our country are numerous and varied enough to keep us satiated for a significant amount of time in a year.
Speaking of variety, we start from the small raw green ones that we find in the beginning of the season and often we cook for chutney, to the yellow dusseris, the green langras, the himsagars, the succulent sucking types like the chausas to the controversial red Alfonsos of “Mangoes for Harley Davidsons” fame, we have them covering nearly 5 months of the year. And if you pay a little extra, you can have them for 2 more months. Each variety has it’s own distinctive looks, colours, tastes and of course aroma and region. A European walking into a marketplace and sauntering into the mango lane would have scant idea of what each variety would taste like and how to choose from them. He would literally need a course on how to recognise one mango variety from the other. At the same time, you would see Indians confidently walking up, asking prices and meticulously choosing each mango according to his senses and perception.
It is a whole ritual of choosing a mango. First you choose the variety that you have been taught to remain loyal to. Then you have a look at the pile. Then with a discerning eye you size up the vendor and ask the price. You already have a mental figure of how much it is going to be. And finally you get around to choosing your mangoes. It goes by size, colour, yes colour of same variety shift by the level of maturity, judgement of firmness without having to press into the royal fruit, the smell (for those who know how to do it) and the weight of each mango. Taking all these rituals into account, it goes into the realm of a cult practice that we have been following since a really tender age.
And yes, every family and every region has its own favourite variety of mango and they swear by it and they die with it. They may venture out to taste other varieties. But the season warming up, they would buy their own variety only and nothing else! In our region for example, coming from the East, Calcutta to be precise, I was raised to appreciate the delicious green “Langra” and to smell them out even from a distance. Such values constitute our mango eating culture. So much so that in most major (and minor) cities in India, it is not surprising to see at least one mango eating fest every season that has a number of events surrounding this wonderful fruit.
If we are lucky, the first mango season begins to appear in the beginning of April and may continue till the end of August. That is a window of nearly 5 months to enjoy this delicacy in its purest form. Also, these are the warmest months of the year. Which also means that due to the summer months, there are actually few tourists in the country to participate in the mango culture of the country. In fact, if properly marketed, we can actually significantly increase foreign currency inflow by inviting tourists to our country to understand our mango culture and to enjoy the king of fruits and the fruit befitting kings! And right now, in the middle of July, we are in the thick of it. If you want to get the maximum variety and the most delicious mangoes in India, it is now!