An Abundance of Mangoesby Shardul, 04 Jul 2020
(Note: I wrote this over a year ago on a different blog. Cross-posting now because why not.)
In a world far away from the dorm where I am usually seen, I am drowning in an abundance of mangoes. Mangoes to eat whole, mangoes to eat sliced, mangoes to slurp as pulp, mango jam, mango pickle, dried mango, mango even to flavor other dishes that can do perfectly well without it. You might think one gets tired of mangoes at some point, but not me, because it’s been four years since I was last in India’s mango country in the mango season—Goa in the summer.
Goa is a small state on the western coast of India, whose red soil, black volcanic bedrock, warm and humid climate, and simple vacation-loving people make for very special mangoes. I keep saying “mango” in the generic but really there are dozens of varieties that are as similar as oranges and nectarines. There’s the world-renowned king-of-the-mangoes alphonso, or hapus, that considers itself too special to sprout from a seed and hence must be grown from a graft, under very careful environmental conditions, to produce a large, delicate, sweet, thin-skinned fruit. The geographical origin of a hapus mango is an important topic for connoisseurs and can be the reason for a three-fold difference in price. There’s the paayri that naturally lends itself to pulp: it’s small and soft and not too sweet, but when pulped, it keeps its fibers to itself and away from the gaps between your teeth. There’s the keshar with a bright orange color (keshar literally means ‘saffron’), the robust thick-skinned totapuri, and many other local varieties that rarely reach a large market.
My favorite, however, is the maankur, local to Goa. What makes it special? Well for one, my grandfather (whose house I am staying at this week on a very relaxed vacation) has been tending to a large maankur tree in his backyard for the last couple decades or so, and nothing beats picking mangoes fresh with your own hands and waiting for them to ripen in your own pantry and then eating them whichever way you want. For another, the maankur is in my opinion richer and more wholesome than the hapus: if the hapus is the diva who won’t have a single picture taken without first putting on a pound of makeup, then the maankur is the beautiful bright-eyed village lass who’s too confident to worry about the pimple on her left cheek. If the hapus is sweet as in sugar then the maankur is sweet as in nectar. If the hapus is a light hug then the maankur is a full-bodied embrace.
But the Goa maankur is to me much more than a mango. In a way it embodies my grandfather’s house and simple lifestyle, in a small town in Goa, not worrying about trivial matters such as Internet connections and automobiles, in which background my dad grew up and then moved across the vast seas to America. (At the moment the two of them are investigating whether the roof of the house that has been battered over the summer by mangoes and coconuts falling from the trees above will stand up to the impending monsoon rain.) It represents what used to be my annual summer vacation, hanging out with my cousins and enjoying the delicious cooking of a plethora of aunts and grandmothers. It’s a wholly different world and culture from that falling-apart brick building in Cambridge where I now live, and I realize that apart from me, the two have nothing in common at all… I guess there’s a blog post now.