A timeless tale, in its season at least one mango dish was a must item part of every conventional feast. A funny Brahmin lad had the hobby of picking whole mango from popular yogurt curry whilst sitting on the floor for customary banana leaf meal. He would squeeze it hard and watch the perfumed juice propelled horizontally like liquid arrow over to his right and land up in someone’s leaf sitting on the side. It was a competition and he always tried to reach maximum distance and reach farthest heap of rice from where he sat, then it was chuckling time with friends!
It’s hardly a decade since we started to spot Indian mangoes being available freely in London; in the last week of April we could usually notice boxes appear at Indian spice shop in Drummonds street. Gradually, sweet fragrance will seduce and steer you through North Circular road into Ealing Road market in Wembley.
Every shop will have abundance of colourful mangoes beautifully decorated at the front, more intriguing are the street peddlers with hundreds of boxes at a better bargain and charming salesmen who would make you buy more than what you require. By mid-May it would have touched all Asian areas and corner shops in the country; in fact arrival of mangoes launches our festivities for the year.
Government of India coordinated a mango festival a few years ago. Rasa was one of the restaurants that took part in a month-long event to promote Indian mangoes. Our mango moru curry, lassi, halwa were some of the most-admired dishes from an all-mango menu!
Unfortunately, the world’s supreme and most expensive mango ‘Alphonso’ has been banned by the European Union due to detections of unwanted pests such as ‘non European fruit flies’ in some consignments. Similar embargo was inflicted by the US in 1989 for fruit flies that could have hypothetically harmed local agriculture. This would certainly create demand for Pakistani mangoes; nevertheless a summer without most delicious fruit that brings nostalgia to every Indian is very gloomy.
Mango stories are close to every child’s heart from our heavenly spells year after year, and purity of those beautiful mornings when our mother fetched first fruit of the day, as blossoming sun romantically touched the soul of tree and allowed the fruit to gently fall on her feet.
Although we sprinted around mango tree a number of times looking for more fruits, we never found same aroma, warmth or taste of the ones she brought. You won’t believe, some of the varieties we had in the village, sugar and chakkara (looked and tasted like jaggary) mangoes, are completely extinct from the region.
Sandesh Ravi Kumar who captured this picture with children on a Bangalore street market said, “There was only mango in my mind while doing this shot, I forgot everything else.” So true with every mango fan; this is a season of love from Nature. We fondly looked at the mango tree from time to time even before we saw first sign of a flower and asked, “how do you manage to bring this heavenly sweetness from nowhere and continue to do it every year?”
Mangoes meant closeness and invited reasons to amalgamate during our lunch breaks at school. As unripe, hard, sour green mangoes slipped off our pockets, then it was time to be making the tastiest mango salad with shallots, chilly powder and salt. We continued debating whether this was better than those sweet mangoes Amma gifted on those lucky mornings.
Mango season has always been a special time, it feels like yesterday and you could just feel that smell, taste and messy shirts with stains of mango juice! People who haven’t experienced would find it hard to understand but many Indians like me still live in those memories and always look forward to the next one.
The author is a London-based restaurateur who owns the Rasa chain