The Magic of the Mango

"Whatever anyone else might say, America's new nuclear and trade pact with India is a win-win deal," argued Madhur Jaffrey in an Op-Ed she wrote for the New York Times in March, 2006.

"India gets nuclear fuel for its energy needs and America, doing far better in what might be called a stealth victory, finally gets mangoes."

And now, at long last, Indian mangoes are here, an exciting moment if you've ever tried to smuggle a mango in your suitcase from southeast Asia or have wondered what the fruity fuss was all about.

Despite the possibilities of 400-plus varieties from around the world and a world-class mango festival held every year in Coral Gables, Fla., the mango pickings in this country have been notoriously slim, usually limited to four often tasteless varieties.

"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," wrote Jaffrey. "Breathe in its aroma, which will reach out to you through its skin." Jaffrey is referring to the coveted "King of mangoes," whose royal flesh will grace American produce aisles any day now.

I've not yet had the imagined pleasure of slurping on an Alphonso mango, but the magic of a mango has not been lost on me.

It was a summer evening in 2000. I was in Barbados, spending time with my dear friends Gordon and Dickie Parkinson, who were like the grandparents I never had.

The sun was starting to fade, so that meant it was nearing 6, which I had come to learn as cocktail hour -- rum cocktails in a silver shaker, to be precise. Gordon and I were rooting around the kitchen for cocktail fixings, but he turned his attention to fruit instead.

"This is Julie," he said to me, pointing to a hot pink-orange hunk of fruit flesh. "She is the sweetest mango there is," he said. "Go on, taste her."

I obeyed, placing the mango on my tongue, letting it sit there for a moment. Then I let it slide down, while trying to savor every honeyed second, aware of the rare moment before me. And so I sat there in front of Gordon as he handed me slice after slice. We said not a word, as there was no time for talking, only slurping. Nectar stained our cheeks and clothes.

Gordon died in 2005, but this old dog taught me tricks I will take to my own grave.

What is about the mango that unleashes our unedited selves?

Jaffrey, a longtime cookbook writer, wrote a memoir detailing her childhood in India in the 1930s and 40s,"Climbing the Mango Trees."

In the prologue, she writes:

"My grandfather had built his house in what was a thriving orchard of jujubes, mulberries, tamarinds and mangoes. His numerous grandchildren, like hungry flocks of birds, attacked the mangoes while they were still green and sour. As grown-ups snored through the hot afternoon in rooms cooled with wetted, sweet-smelling vetiver curtains, the unsupervised children were on every branch of every mango tree, armed with a ground mixture of salt, pepper, red chilies and roasted cumin. The older children, on the higher branches, peeled and sliced the mangoes with penknives and passed the slices down to the smaller fry on the lower branches. We would dip the slices into our spice mixture and eat, our tingling mouths telling us that we had ceased to be babies."

When I eat a mango, life stands still. Nothing else matters but that moment, a moment when I'm free like a child and sweet as orange flesh. Maybe that's why I've come to believe that if we organized a World Mango Day, a day when people around the world would be handed a mango, that the sheer power of the good vibrations brought on by this fruit would bring us just a little closer to world peace.

Well, I can dream.

To eat a mango, try this:

Hold mango upright, stem end up. Feel pit in center. Place knife to left of pit, slicing the length of the fruit, from top to bottom. Repeat on right side. Now you have two separate mango "cheeks." With knife, score the flesh of each "cheek" in a tic-tac-toe pattern, but without cutting through the skin. Hold the edges of the skin and push the skin from underneath toward you, so that cubes of mango pop up from the inside out. Eat and savor. Best done over a sink, or in a bathtub, with someone you love.

Share your love for the mango in the comments area below.

By Kim ODonnel |  May 9, 2007; 7:55 AM ET Tropical Fruit
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Comments

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In India, nothing announces summer like the arrival of mangoes!! I cannot wait! Alphonso's are sweet - but there are othere great varieties - Dusseri, Banganpalli.. Get ready people!

Posted by: gaithersburg | May 9, 2007 8:56 AM

I love a well-camouflaged marketing campaign just as much as I love mangoes! Oh, my mind is made up, I shall join the hype and the supermarket throngs and make you guy a nice profit.

Posted by: Nice PR Prose | May 9, 2007 9:20 AM

I'm a midwesterner and our delightful supermarket brought in Atulfo mangoes last year. Wasn't a regular mango fan, but our market had samples of the Atulfo and they're SOOOOOOO good. My daughters and I almost always eat them standing up - because they snarf up the slices almost as fast as I cut them.

Alas the season is short and there are never enough of them, but it's our favorite fruit!

Posted by: Mango Mother and Daughter | May 9, 2007 9:42 AM

I spent spring break in India this year, staying with my husband's family. One of the highlights of the trip for me was picking mangoes from the densely-laden trees around their house, using a wire basket on a long pole to carefully select, twist off, and gently lower the green fruit. They were layered in newspaper and left for several days to ripen before being sliced up and gobbled for tea. Bliss! My husband has always been disdainful of the mangoes in the US. I've had some good ones here, but nothing to rival his family's fruit.

Posted by: mangopicker | May 9, 2007 10:11 AM

The best mango I ever had? On the riverboat from Djenne to Timbuktu in Mali. After three days of the same meal, three meals a day (rice with dried fish and "mustard" sauce -- mustard being a preparation that appeared in its raw state like a black clay ball, made from fermented soybean, ashes, and god knows what else, and smelling...unappetizing to the western palate), we got mangoes in a fishing village.

They were so ripe that we bit a small hole through the skin in the top of the mango and sucked the fruity pulp out, massaging the fruit with our fingers. The perfect to-go snack.

Posted by: Rita | May 9, 2007 10:13 AM

Alphonsos are fine mangoes. But in India there are so many other delicious mangoes that Alphonsos are not even the tip of the iceberg. For me nothing beats the magical taste of the "Langdas" and the "Chausas"

Posted by: Anonymous | May 9, 2007 10:26 AM

I agree, the Alfonsos are wonderful, but they really are only the tip of the iceberg. Spending every summer in India growing up, we took the mangoes for granted. I never even had a mango in the US until my twenties, and what a disappointment! I don't know if eating an Indian mango here will match the childhood enjoyment of sitting with my grandmother and my sisters, sharing a thali of mangoes after lunch in the aangan (courtyard)!

Posted by: Anonymous | May 9, 2007 10:38 AM

Indian mangoes, as with most other things in India, are marked by there diversity. Every part of the country has its own varieties. Some of the comments posted here suggest that Dusseri and Langdas are comparable to the Alphonso. These posters are quite obviously not from the region around Mumbai (formerly Bombay), where the Alphonso grows. Nothing compares to the Alphonso. American consumers should be able to attest to that soon.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 9, 2007 10:51 AM

Slurping mangoes on the deck with your best friend = summer.
Can't wait to try Indian magoes.

Posted by: concetta27 | May 9, 2007 10:56 AM

Serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Eastern Caribbean, my life was changed by my introduction to "Julies" and their enormous cousins, softball-sized mangoes so big they were locally known as "bellyfuls." And during this time in the islands, they're so plentiful that people would scoff at the idea of paying for them! Thank goodness U.S. mango-lovers will soon have an alternative to the exorbitantly-priced, taste-deprived specimens we've been stuck with...

Posted by: CFB | May 9, 2007 11:12 AM

Alphonsos are ok. My vote is for Chausas, Langdas Rasaulis and Dussehris. We want them.

Posted by: FormerDelhi-ite | May 9, 2007 11:31 AM

Easily the best mango experience I've ever had was actually a mango smoothie (just healthy slices of ripe mango blended with ice) on the north beach of zanzibar overlooking the indian ocean. so, so delicious...

Posted by: iammrben | May 9, 2007 11:49 AM

My best memories of mangoes are when I lived in Hawaii as a child. Mangoes, pineapple, star fruit, tangerines....it's almost worth moving there just for the fruit. I've also had them in Mexico (peeled and scored and stuck on a stick!) sprinkled with lime juice and a bit of cayenne. I haven't had the opportunity to try the Indian mangoes, but I'm sure my children and I will be all over them as soon as they carry them at our co-op. They are our favorite dessert and after I buy them my children bug me twice a day to cut them up, regardless of how ripe they are.

And although I agree that fresh mangoes are best just plain, for her birthday last year, my neice requested a cake with fruit on top. A friend found this recipe for mango cake with lime-ginger curd (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/recipe_views/views/107947) and it is now her favorite cake (and in my top 10).

Posted by: seattle | May 9, 2007 12:33 PM

I have lived all over India, and eaten all kinds of mangoes, and I have to say that Langdas and Chausas beat Aphonso anytime as far as taste is concerned.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 9, 2007 12:59 PM

I love the orginary grocery-store mangos already, so I can't imagine what these succulent fruits from India must be like! I'll keep an eye out for them.

I usually eat mangos by
1) Peeling it.
2) Gnawing on the flesh like a maddened beast, leaning over the sink, slurping it off the pit as much as I can.
3) Licking the juice off my hands and arms.
4) Washing up and hoping no one saw me.

Posted by: DC Cubefarm | May 9, 2007 1:07 PM

Chausas and Langdas can beat Alphonsos butt anyday.

Posted by: MangoLove | May 9, 2007 1:35 PM

To the Mumbai-wallah -- you seem to be outvoted here by the other Indians!! :)

Posted by: mango | May 9, 2007 1:43 PM

You must have the mango slicer made by OXO! In one smooth stroke you have two beautiful halves of mango and clean fingers! After living in the Middle East, I am a huge mango fan and this little secret makes it so much easier to have fresh mangoes!

Posted by: mary o | May 9, 2007 1:46 PM

Why we from India have to talk about Langdas, Chausas, Bainganfali, Totafali is to let the Americans know that Hapus (AKA Alphonso) is just one of the even more fabulous mangoes from India. Nothing personal against u Mumbaiwalla. U must wholeheartedly surrender ur regionalism, and admit that there are even more wonderful mangoes from your wonderful country.

Posted by: mangopyaar | May 9, 2007 2:06 PM

Hey DC Cubefarm,
Way to go. Thats how mangoes are eaten. The others just dont know.

Posted by: FormerDelhi-ite | May 9, 2007 2:10 PM

Hello Kim

I've spent a fair amount of time in India (maybe a total of five years in the '70s and '80s) and I agree with the earlier posters who say Alphonsos are OK but not fabulous.

The best were in Bangkok and Singapore. In Bangkok I always stayed at a hotel on a low-numbered soi (lane) off Sukhumvit (a major thoroughfare). In the basement food section of Robinson's department store on Sukhumvit I always found outrageously delish mangoes AND lychees, my drug of choice!

Ah, lychees! Here in Hawaii we don't have much of a lychee season. Most years, heavy winds blow the ripening fruit off the trees. Even when there's a decent crop the season only lasts six weeks or so, leaving me with acute withdrawal symptoms 46 weeks a year!

Posted by: David L | May 9, 2007 2:14 PM

The only kind of mangoes I've eaten are from the local Giant or Safeway. I didn't know there were other varieties, and yes, I eat them over the sink, too. Guess I've just had a deprived life.
Not to change the subject, but I've recently purchased and planted paw-paws from West Virginia (Peterson's Paw=Paws). Kim: Any chance of a future article about paw-paws? I've never seen them in the stores and am curious why they aren't more popular.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | May 9, 2007 2:19 PM

Having spent all of my summers growing up in Mexico (my mom's family is Mexican), I am familiar with the delicious assortment of Mexican mangoes. As a child, the only mangoes available here in the States were the ones from Hawaii, which are fibrous and not as sweet and thoroughly disappointing to my spoiled tastebuds. Luckily, varieties from across the world have started making an appearance! In Mexico, they even have a tool for eating mangos called a "trinchemango". It looks like a metal trident and is used to spear the pit. Then you peel the skin off and eat it like a lollipop. I can't WAIT to try the Indian varieties!

PS: A tip - don't buy your mangoes at the outrageous prices Whole Foods asks for. Instead, go to your local Asian market and they will have them for a much more reasonable price!

Posted by: lca | May 9, 2007 2:27 PM

Lets also not forget the awesome juicy varieties of mangoes - Ratol, Lucknowi Safeda. These dont have much pulp and are eaten (rather drunk) in the way described above by Rita. For pulpy mangoes I love Chausas. We used to skip lunch and fill ourselves with mangoes.

Posted by: Ohio | May 9, 2007 2:34 PM

ITS ABOUT TIME THE BEST COUNTRY HAD THE BEST FRUIT. MAYBE INDIAN MANGOES WILL MAKE THE US MORE OPULTENTLY SPIRITUAL LIKE INDIA HAS BEEN FOR CENTURIES.. ANYHOW, ITS WORTH A GOOD TRY.

Posted by: GK | May 9, 2007 2:46 PM

A "Devgadh" or "Ratnagiri" Alphanso in peak season is a slice of paradise. No human who has had a fine Alphanso mango will ever touch a lesser breed like Landa, Dusheri etc ( uughh ). It has one characteristic; it is highly tempereture sensitive, so those who eat a Ratnagiri alphanso in Delhi or Bangalore are going to see a radically different fruit. That can be the only sane reason why some of the guys posting here prefer the other varieties.

Posted by: Sanket | May 9, 2007 3:57 PM

I have had the good fortune of eating Ratnagiri Alphonso at Panaji Goa, and also in Mumbai, and fortunately I have also eaten Chausa and Langda, and their taste is like "fantablous," literally "party of the tastebuds". And yet, Chausa beats "Ratnagiri" Alphonso anyday anytime anywhere. So many people are not talking just like that. Since, alphonso is so "temperature sensitive" I can imagine how it will taste by the time it arrives in the US. :0)

Posted by: Anonymous | May 9, 2007 4:13 PM

This is probably my favorite blog post of all time.

Mangoes are truly the best. I havent' tried the Indian mangoes yet (but I will as soon as I can get my hands in some), but growing up in Central America- that's one of the favorite mid-day snacks. Forget pringles! We would eat them in every stage of possible from very green to nice and ripe.
If I close my eyes I can still see the sun kissed yellow mangoes with rosy cheeks that smell so sweet. That is the smell of my childhood.

Posted by: Mangolover | May 9, 2007 4:28 PM

i like alphonsos and live in mumbai, but you havent lived if you havent had the sindhris in karachi

Posted by: rehan | May 9, 2007 4:33 PM

Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, have to go home......I'm drooling on my keyboard....

Posted by: Karen | May 9, 2007 4:35 PM

Remember mango lovers and would be mango lovers, too much of good things (mangoes) can cause upset tummy.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 9, 2007 5:00 PM

Sanket, Man I pity you.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 9, 2007 6:24 PM

I'm a Mumbai wallah ( Aka Bombayite)& I agree with you Mumbaiwallah.Nothing beate the taste of the Devgarh & Ratnagiri Hapus (aka Alphonso).

Posted by: Aarti | May 10, 2007 2:19 AM

WHY SHOULD INDIA GIVE THE BEST FRUIT TO THIS WARMONGERING MILITARY MAD COUNTRY.I WONDER WHY THE INDIANS ARE SOOOO GOOD !!!!. USA SELLS GUNS INDIA SELLS MANGOES. NOW YOU TELL ME WHO HAS GOOD TASTE . !!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: gk | May 10, 2007 9:44 AM

Haapus or Alphonso mangoes are the best, nothing else even comes close. Mangoes bring
back memories of the warm summer months and school vacations.
I remember gobbling two or more everyday when I was growing up in Bombay!
Here is recipe to beat the heat:

Dice the mangoes and top with clotted or whipped cream, serve cold. Enjoy!

Posted by: Mango maniac | May 10, 2007 2:01 PM

I adore mangoes and have eaten them since I was a child. Sadly as an adult I've developed a skin sensitivity to the peel so I break out in a terrible, itchy rash if I touch a mango peel. Weird, I know. I'm blessed to have a husband who will buy them, peel them, and slice them so I can eat them with a fork. Now that's devotion! My Hawaiian friend tells me I'm not the only one this has happened to, and to be grateful I won't likely encounter mango sap as the reaction is much worse...

Posted by: DC | May 10, 2007 2:47 PM

WOOHOO!!! The long drought is over. I just have vague memories of Indian mangoes but it is my father who goes on and on about mangoes from India. Hopefully, he will be happy now. I can't wait to buy them and try them out again as an adult.

Posted by: Little Red | May 10, 2007 2:48 PM

I recall lazily drifting down a stream in Hana, Maui with friends. My aunty handed us peeled manoes to eat while we lolled about in the water. Sweet, wet, warm all at the same time without the fuss of cleaning up. Truly one of my greater memories. How carefree!

Posted by: HonoluluLulu | May 10, 2007 8:06 PM

Mangos are truly the bomb! In Hawaii, many people here like them green, with salt, pepper and shoyu. I never cared so much for that as a nice, ripe, sweet Pirie! The local mangos here from one's backyard are not stringy at all. I also have a wonderful recipe for mango bread that I found in "A Taste of Hawaii" by Jean-Marie Josselin. It has Mac nuts and walnuts--oh so good! I think World Mango Day (funny you should mention) is a great idea. I also think World Creativity Day (this is my idea for getting people into a positive way of thinking) is much the same. Let's all at once cook, dance, paint, draw etc., together and enjoy the boundless pleasures that life offers.

Posted by: surfhoney55 | May 11, 2007 12:25 AM

Where is my local asian market if I live in Burke?

Posted by: local asian market | May 11, 2007 11:28 AM

I lived in Cairo for a few years working on a USAID project and fell in love with mangoes. I don't know what the different varieties were called, but there was an old man who would walk around the neighborhood where my office was with a crate of them on his shoulder yelling "Manga! Manga kweiss!" (Good mangoes) Those Egyptian fruits sure were delicious. I was hooked and miss them terribly. Can't wait to try the beauties from India.

Posted by: Arlington, VA | May 15, 2007 12:42 PM

Another Peace Corps Volunteer...I was in South America, where every night during mango season I would eat dinner with one eye on the giant mango I had waiting in the corner for dessert. Ate an entire one myself every night, then went straight outside to the water pump to rinse my whole upper body off. That was when it was 20 mangoes to the dollar...sigh...

Posted by: RPCV | May 15, 2007 4:14 PM

Any body tried Tapka mangoes

Posted by: RKumar | May 21, 2007 5:31 PM

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