Tango with the Mango- from India to the Americas

Mango, the king of fruits allures the perennial Bengali taste bud of mine. Walking past the isles of golden yellow hued fruit in an Indian grocery store in New Jersey, I am gushed with a sudden rush of nostalgia. Flooded with many happy memories of hot summer months back in Kolkata, when mangoes ruled my appetite, in the way of tangy young green mangoes, or deliciously ripened form. I loved them anyway, be it as dried “aamshotto” or as a refreshing drink of “aampana” or “lassi”.

The air in this season acquired the uniquely over powering aroma of mangoes. One could only inhale the fragrance of mangoes everywhere, be it home, sidewalks, neighborhood or market places. For Indians, summer is but synonyms with mangoes. The scorching heat of Kolkata becomes worthwhile with the radiantly rich mangoes flashing their bright yellow color in every street corner, wooing all of ones’ senses.

To me, eating a mango is an over all, rounded, wholesome, earthy experience. It titillates not just the taste bud but all other senses and sensibilities, too. As one devours on the sweet, fleshy pulp of a mango, one totally surrenders to its heavenly taste, indulging in it completely, holding on to it till the juice drips down the chin and the sticky sensation awakens one to the harsh, hard, stony pit of the mango. Therein sets the feeling of contentment and accomplishment of a divine experience.

As a child summertime always came with an abundance of mangoes. It was sheer thrill to delve inside the big bamboo baskets full of mangoes and dig out the warm mangoes bedded among green mango leaves. The sheer delight of being able to pick and choose by size, color and any number made me snack on them in twos and threes at a time, and this was a predilection that I often gave in.

6c2zo

A decade back as a new comer to New Jersey, it was an awful mango-less summer for me. But soon my fondness for mangoes made me venture into a whole new breed of mangoes available on this side of the globe. I was pleasantly surprised by the wide array of choices that lay before me. A whole new world of mangoes unfolded before me. The South American varieties from Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Haiti and even Florida were all worth giving a try. The “Ataulfo” variety to me was the closest to our “Himshagor” variety from Bengal in terms of sweetness, texture and non-fibrousness. The “Kent” had the fragrance close enough to our “Lyangra” variety. The others “Tommy Atkins”, “Haden” and “Keitt” varieties were tarty and fibrous.  My mango eating experience was certainly enriched by being exposed to different kinds of mangoes available here and they were able to satisfy my longing and craving for them to a certain extent. However, what I found was that they all lacked was the flavor and fragrance of the Indian varieties of “Alfonso”, “Kesar”, “Fajli”, “Himshagor”,”Lyangra” or even “Dussera” or “Chowsa”.

To most Americans Mango still remains an exotic, mystery tropical fruit, tangy and tarty, only eaten in the form of Salsa. They have no idea how to enjoy this scrumptious wonder of nature. They are awed by the skills of Indians and South-east Asians at peeling and slicing of mangoes and eating them with fork. It was a revelation that mangoes can be savored by scooping the flesh out by cutting the fruit vertically setting aside the center slice containing the pit. It was interesting to note the bewilderment of an American when I shared my mango eating experiences. As a child I often ate mangoes scrapped to the seed with my teeth, or even punched a hole at the bottom of the oval shaped fruit and sucked in the entire pulp inside of my mouth.

I see a lot of hope and rays of light at the end of the mango tunnel of America. The flood gates of import on fruits have opened up and the Indian varieties of “Alphonso” and “ Kesar” have already hit and lit up the mango stands of the grocery stores. It is my strong conviction that someday soon my very own native favorite “Himshagor” and “Lyangra” will cross the seas to adorn, fragrant and capture the American heart.