I know that I should get a little more creative and add them to firni (Indian rice pud) or make ice cream, but I have only ventured as far as a homemade sweet mango lassi. To be honest, I prefer their silky, sweet flesh in its purest form. Plus living in this Indian summer heat, I am avoiding the kitchen at all costs. Thankfully, there are other ways to get a mango fix in this city, as mango burfi (an Indian milk sweet) from my favourite Haldirams in Old Delhi, mango ice cream from our local Big Chill, and mango smoothie in my regular coffee shop. I never miss a chance to have mango.
Also preventing any kind of mango overload is the vast range in variety of this indigenous fruit. On passing any fruit stall or shop in the city, I scour the goods for a mango whose sweet flesh I have not yet savoured. The variety has been incredible – I certainly had no idea there were so many - from fat large yellow skinned, to medium mottled green fruits, and tiny, cardamom scented ones so small that they are mostly stone. Unfortunately, my Hindi has not progressed much and I still know none of their names.
But what I do have are photos of a few of the varieties I have tasted, with incredible and yet somewhat indescribable differences in taste, texture and juiciness. As Madhur Jafrey in her book A Taste of India says “I often think summers in India would be unbearable without the God-given compensation of mangoes, Alphonsoes in particular ”. I agree.
One of my early blog posts about Indian food recalled my first taste of Indian mangoes and back then I thought I had tasted Alphonso that looked similar to those found in UK supermarkets. But, how wrong could I have been? The difference between what I was eating then, compared to my box of true Alphonso mangoes direct from Maharashtra on the West coast of India... well they were incomparable.
This humble box of Alphonso mangoes or apus as they are known across India, was actually a very expensive gift from Jack. Visiting Mumbai and Pune for work, the team took a long detour via the wholesale fruit market with the sole purpose of purchasing the “King of mangoes” to bring home to Delhi. Some thought it was a strange gift to receive, and Jack too was a little unsure if they would really be worth the money (they are the most prized and therefore expensive type). But me being me, I was totally thrilled.
Quickly I prepared the ripest beauty, with juice trickling down my arm and the flesh slicing off the stone with ease. The fragrance just on piercing the skin made me salivate, something our local varieties had yet to do.
The ripest one in the box
A taste test was in order to see just how good these babies were compared to what we had tried so far, so I chopped up one of the regulars too. Just looking at the fruit (and apologies for the lack of photos) the Alphonso flesh was a deeper, darker, more orange colour with a firmness that meant it was easily cut into chunks. On eating... well there was truly no contest. The flesh had a meaty bite, but was the juiciest I’d ever eaten, with pure mango nectar dribbling down my chin. The flavour was strong but not overpoweringly fragrant as some varieties have been, and sweet but not sickly. All in all, it was perfect and worth every Rupee.
We had a week to eat a dozen mangoes before we left for a holiday in Goa, which meant we had two for breakfast every day. Getting better as the week progressed, I found they got sweeter and juicier and I was sad when we ate the last one, licking the plate for the remaining drips of juice.
But what I didn’t know was what the local fruit guys had in store for me. Even more varieties coming into season... there were even more treats to come.
Oh, and to answer the title of this post... how many varieties are there? Thousands apparently, with new cultivars being developed all the time. So I have a lot of tasting before the season is out.