Your Seasonal Guide To Mangoes
Last September, a friend lamented that she hadn’t eaten any mangoes and it was already the end of the season. I told her that I’d seen mangoes in the markets just a few days ago—and not just shriveled ones pushed through from a warehouse, to make the most of what was left of them. There were some long, saffron-fleshed Kesar mangoes, and many of the tiny, yellow Neelam variety, which each fit neatly in an adult’s fist. These mangoes were plump, had unwrinkled skin and were still juicy when you cut into them. Around the same time, I’d had my first Gaunti mango of 2011 (Rs15 a kilo in September). Gaunti is the kind of mango that you roll around in your palm until it gets all mushy inside (but the green skin stays intact); then you pop open the part where the stem attaches itself and then tip over the juice into your mouth.
Of all our summer produce, mangoes make us look forward to Mumbai’s muggy months the most. Which also explains why at traffic signals, fruitsellers are already cashing in on the thrill, walking around with cardboard boxes filled with strictly average looking “Hapoos” and promising us “achhaa daam”. Other retailers with the first few lots of Alphonsoes are asking for Rs2,000 a dozen and say they are already selling reasonable volumes since the last week. But Nivruti Kangana Mangowala of Grant Road Bhaji Gully calls these [roughly translated], “vanity mangoes”. “Why eat these flavourless sub-standard Alphonso now, when you can wait for a month for the real stuff?” Kangana said. “People buy them so that they can say that they ate their first Hapoos already.” Down the street, fruitseller Tanaji Nathu Satkar said that hapoos is at its peak flavour when it floods the market in May. And then it sells for as little as Rs150 to Rs200 a dozen.
While Hapoos dominates Mumbai’s mango mania, there are said to be over 500 varieties of the fruit grown in the country. Of these, over a dozen major varieties will show up in Mumbai’s markets over the next few months. Why limit ourselves to Alphonso when there are juicier, sweeter, larger, tangier, fleshier mangoes available to us until the end of the rains? They come from different states in India, and different varieties hit their peak during a certain month of our monsoon. I’m going to buy one kilo of each kind as soon as it’s at its best price (and quality). By mid-April, fruitsellers like Nivruti Kangana in every market will move their business exclusively to mangoes until the monsoon retreats. Here’s what you can expect:
The variety we consider the “king of mangoes” is considered native to Ratnagiri in Maharashtra, even though they were first brought to India by (and named after) Afonso de Albuquerque, a Portuguese nobleman who carried them with him on trips here. While Hapoos (the local pronunciation) also grows in Sindhudurg and around the Deogad taluka in Maharashtra, as well as in the Valsad district in Gujarat, the best aroma and flavour is found in those that are grown in Ratnagiri. While it’s known for its beautiful perfume and juicy orange flesh, Alphonso is not the sweetest of mangoes (try eating one with your nose closed, and more than half the fun is lost.)
Pairi is the aamras (or mango pulp) mango. It has green skin, yolk-yellow flesh, and is very easy to juice. It must be had when the skin is just beginning to go yellow, and gives off a slightly spicy aroma at the stem end. The yellower the skin and the stronger the smell of the fruit, the more likely that it is past its prime. The Deogad pairi is considered to be the best in the market. This variety can also be had like the Gaunti, by rolling it gently between your palms, and pulling on the juice through the stem end once it has been cut open and any surrounding sap has been wiped away. What makes pairi special is that it is a mango you can enjoy all through the year. Most Gujarati homes combine its juice with juice from the Alphonso (to add thickness, aroma and colour) and store jars of this in the freezer, melting a spoonful or two at a time to have with puris, on ice cream or in a milkshake for as long as five months after the fruit has disappeared. Shopkeepers say prices will dip to Rs200 per dozen this season.
One of the largest varieties available in the market, the best Rajapuris from Valsad can weigh over a kilo each. The greenish thick and smooth skin hides flesh that is very sweet, and very juicy. It is comparable to the Malgova variety (see below), but is much easier to come by in Mumbai. When raw, this is also a very popular variety for pickling because the seed is quite small. When it’s ripe, one mango can feed a family of four quite easily. When they flood the market, these will cost Rs40 per kilo.
Kesar is said to be named after its saffron-coloured flesh and delicate aroma. Gujaratis consider it the “queen of mangoes”, and indeed it is a variety that includes several grafts of the king Alphonso and grows best in Junagadh in Gujarat. The skin of this long, elegant-looking mango is golden even when it is raw. It is very sweet with slight citrus notes, which also makes it one of the tastiest mangoes in the Indian market. Sadly, due to recent foggy conditions in the Saurashtra region, farmers are anticipating damage by pests to this year’s harvest. Kesar is priced like the Rajapuri, so this year (conditions allowing) you could buy them at Rs40 per kilo.
Named after Banganapalle in Andhra Pradesh, this variety also grows in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. It is a flattened, tall, oblong fruit, shaped much like an almond (or badam in Hindi). It’s also a large variety, so each one can weigh half a kilo. The shiny, bright yellow skin encases lighter maize-yellow flesh that has a mild flavour. It’s appreciated for its crisp, sweet and slightly tangy, fibre-less flesh. The best price for badam this year is expected to be Rs30 for a kilo. Towards the end of the season, the fruit tends to have flies or weevils growing in the seed, from eggs deposited in the young fruit.
Their light green colour and prominent beak shape at both ends does make these mangoes look a little like parrots (tota in Hindi). These are best eaten just before they turn ripe, when the flesh is firm, cream coloured, more tangy than sweet, and tastes excellent with a little salt and red chilli powder. Possibly the healthiest school-gate snack, Totapuri is also the only mango that’s okay to eat unpeeled, with its crunchy and slightly vegetal skin (other mango skins are bitter, too chewy and unpalatable, unless pickled). While they are available throughout the year, June and July are the best months for them, when you can buy them for as little as Rs25 a kilo. Here’s a recipe for an excellent instant pickle meant to be made only with Totapuris. I love adding them to salsa (Pico de Gallo style) in place of tomatoes.
A greenish, round mango, Lalpatta is named after the red blush it has on one side around the stem end, which fades as it narrows to a deep orange into the dark green bottom half. This small fruit is about fist-sized at its biggest and is also a “juice” mango, which means that it can be had like the Gaunti, but is not quite as sweet. Grown in Karnataka, it will be available in Mumbai for as little as Rs35 per kilo.
Like the roti, Roomali is named for its super-thin skin. The fruit is round like an apple and looks a lot like one so it’s also called the apple mango. But each fruit is generally heavier than an apple because of its higher sugar content—about two to three mangoes make a kilo (usually available for about Rs40). The skin is a mix of red and yellow, while the flesh is smooth, juicy, fibreless and bright yellow. The pulp makes for a deliciously sweet drink when blended with ice.
Malgovas are the Alphonsos of South India, beloved and awaited every year. It is easier to find them in Pune, but for a few days, they are also available in Mumbai for about Rs60 a kilo. I ask my fruit seller to keep an eye out for them. My relatives in Bangalore (the mango grows in Karnataka) send crates of Malgova to Mumbai in exchange for crates of Alphonso. You can identify them by their massive size and irregular rotund shape (each one can weigh over a kilo and be as large as a medium-sized papaya), and their slightly coarse skin that stays deep green even when they are ripe. They typically have a few drops of shiny (often dried by the time it reaches the market) sap that runs down from the stem end. The flesh inside is creamy-yellow and meaty, with a lot of fibre. Malgovas have a sweet, slightly milky taste, and according to urban legend, this is because farmers feed the roots with a mix of milk and water.
Neelam is the mango that arrives when it starts raining. You can get eight of this oblong, small-sized variety in a kilo. They have a very smooth, yellow skin and a tiny seed. The flesh is creamy, soft and bright yellow with almost no fibres and a distinct floral aroma. At about Rs20 per kilo, they are among the cheapest variety as well.
With a thick, green skin, langda has an intense flavour and sweetness, with notes of tanginess or acid. It is sometimes compared to the Totapuri, but it doesn’t have beak-shaped ends. It is an easy-to-grow variety and is found in Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat and Rajasthan. Long and egg-shaped with lemon yellow flesh, it’s beautiful to look at even when sliced open. In mid-July, we should get them for about Rs35 per kilo.
Medium-sized, with a thin, flattened seed and sweet, firm flesh, Dasehri is as ubiquitous as Langda now, but the first ones are said to originate in Uttar Pradesh where they are quite proud of the fruit. It has a slightly elongated, round shape which goes from yellow at the stem to green at the bottom, and becomes more yellow all over as it ripens. Dasehri has a milder flavour than Langda and Pairi, but is liked for its fibre-less, sweet flesh. It should be available for Rs40 to Rs50 per kilo at peak season.
With bright yellow skin and a sweet, soft pulp, this mango comes from the same belt as the two varieties mentioned above. It is best had in early August and is enjoyed when most of the other varieties are no longer at their prime. It is very juicy and rich, with a wonderful aroma. Pakistan considers it among the country’s best fruit, and exports large quantities of it all over the world. It is likely to be priced at Rs40 to Rs50 a kilo.