By Buvana Sharma
My mother is a connoisseur of many things but my favorite is her knowledge of mangoes. From just a whiff or a bite she can place a mango to its origin and finds the best way to cherish the flavor of each fruit. Some may call it an obsession, but I think it may be her superpower – Madhuri Sharma, Co-Founder
While planning a trip to India, the most frequently asked question is, “when is the best time of year to visit?” My answer is simply, “during the mango season”. From about early May to early July the mangoes flood the market and the mango frenzy is at its peak. The heat and humidity in most parts of India can get a bit uncomfortable, but for a true “mango aficionado” it is a small price to pay. From North to South and East to West, various regions grow its own variety of mangoes, each distinct and peculiar, marked by varying degrees of sweetness, tanginess, flavor and fragrance – very characteristic to the regions they represent. Like wine, they have to be savored and relished and a true connoisseur will distinguish and detect the fruit’s origins with just the smell and a sizable bite of this heavenly fruit. Like a dialect coach getting her kicks off by deciphering accents, I like to play this game, where I would chop up different varieties of mangoes and try guessing its breed and origin by the flavor and color and texture of the skin.
India has over 260 varieties of mangoes out of which 11 are most popular. If you were to begin your trip in Northern India, the Chaunsa from Himachal would be a good one to start with. Then you would probably easily get your hands on Alphonso/aapoos in Maharashtra, so popular that families buy them by the baskets versus dozens. Kesar in Gujrath gets its name from the “saffron” color of its sweet juicy pulp. This variety is widely used for making “aam rus”, a sweet side dish to go with pooris and ghee during the mango season. A distinct feature of this variety is that the skin remains green even when ripe, in direct contrast to the sunrise orange flesh. Another popular mango in the North is Langda, which translates to “lame” and is named after the disabled farmer who first cultivated it. Raspuri is yet another variety used primarily for its juicy pulp in making lassi, a buttermilk based drink that is a staple to Punjabi cuisine. If you prefer, you could puncture a small hole in a ripe fruit and suck its interior dry without even having to cut it!
While descending South you might chance into Banganpalli in Andhra. The appeal for this variety lies in its smooth glowing golden skin but also its fiber-free pulp that is marked by a milder sweetness. It is no wonder that this ranks as one of the favorites of the masses in the later part of the season. Neelam from Tamil Nadu, named after the color “blue” is another popular variety. The dark green & white powdery skin that almost looks blue in the moonlit nights, is quite the opposite of Banganpalli; the skin is much thicker but the intensity of sweetness definitely higher, appealing to the ones with more of a sweet tooth.
Himam Pasandh, a rare more expensive hybrid fruit, can easily win the title of “King of Mangoes”. A larger fruit with a flavor & sweetness to match its size, it lives up to its name, which translates to the King’s choice. Coming down to Karnataka, you have the Tothapuri. The diversity of the use of this variety is mind-boggling. From pickles, to salads, to snacks with salt & chili powder smeared on it or a perfect dessert its versatility is quite appealing. Another variety Mallika, which means “jasmine”, is commonly found in the tail end of the season is packed with a lot of sweetness & aroma. While I can appreciate all these varieties, my all time favorite is the Romani – the mango that disguises itself as an apple! It’s late appearance in the market proves that mother nature truly saves the best for last. Starting from the easy-to-peel thin skin, the round yellow shape, the fiber-free juicy pulp with only a very small seed to throw away, it satisfies your every craving and leaves you wanting for more. It’s the perfect grand finale to the mango season, leaving you with an after taste that can last you a whole year, or at least until the season arrives again!