Jun 19, 2010
Happily blinded by the bright yellow fruits before me, I tested the mangoes for ripeness. Poke. Poke, poke. Soft to the touch, each mango begged to be eaten right then and there, but I resisted the urge. All the fruit vendors in Mumbai showcased their mangoes in the exact same way: with impeccable neatness, in dazzling, diagonal rows. From the fruit stands to the market stalls, their sheer bounty mesmerized me. To complete my checklist of foods to eat in India, all I had to do was try one Indian mango before flying back home.
Upon arriving in Mumbai, (my final destination after backpacking India for three weeks) I fell victim to mango mania. How could I not? Mango-based food or drink hollered my name from every street corner. Two months per year, the Alphonso Mango – considered “King of Mangoes” to many – graces the world with its booming presence. As such, the mango variety abounds in India from March to May. It was late May when I was in Mumbai; the Alphonso was nearing the end of its brief growing season.
Whenever a frenzied craving struck, I gave in. On one occasion, I paid a whopping 140 Rupees (about $3 CAD, at about 44 INR to $1 CAD) for a medium-sized cup of pure, squeezed Alphonso juice. Located at the entrance of a domestic airport, the drink was seven times more expensive than it would have cost elsewhere. Nevertheless, it was so thick and luscious that halfway through, I gave up slurping the drink with a straw, proceeding to eat it with a spoon instead.
To celebrate Alphonso season, chefs at various restaurants launch Mango Festivals, whipping up inventive arrays of Alphonso-based dishes. Feeling rather swanky, on one of my last days in Mumbai, I dragged a couple friends to the Mango Festival at Taj Mahal Hotel’s Shamiana Restaurant. Intrigued by the diversity of mango desserts to choose from, it was a nail-biting decision to settle on only two: Mango and Chocolate Mille Feuille and Mango Tiramisu.
Oh, the disappointment. Instead of buttery pastry, the layers in the Mille Feuille were replaced with wafer-thin squares of poor-quality chocolate. The Tiramisu was polished off only because we got childishly giddy each a juicy gem of diced Alphonso was discovered, hidden within the dessert’s cream.
Still, nothing beats eating a fruit in its truest, original form. The first time I slipped a slice of fresh Alphonso into my mouth, my whole face scrunched up, as if I’d stuffed it with a handful of candies. Be warned: a sugar rush to the brain post-consumption of one’s first Alphonso is highly probable. No wonder locals call Alphonsos “sweet sweets.” As fragrant as it is flavourful, when cut open, the Alphonso emits multiple aromas: peach, cardamom, papaya and vanilla. A wonderfully perfumed fruit, the Alphonso’s full-bodied, velvety orange flesh adds to its allure.
Praises sung for the Alphonso can be heard from India and beyond. Hundreds have declared their devotion by becoming fans of the Facebook page, “I Love Alphonso Mangoes!!!” On Chowhound.com, (an online forum where foodies discuss food within their locales) Alphonso enthusiasts abound. Whenever Alphonso season rolls around, in a number of cities worldwide – London, Vancouver, Seattle and Montreal, to name a few – discussion boards frantically question, “When and where will the best mango in the world be available in our city?” Silly fools. It is an absolute understatement to describe the Alphonso Mango as such. If the mango is “King of Fruits” and the Alphonso is indeed “King of Mangoes,” then the Almighty Alphonso must be the best fruit in the world.