If it’s summer, it must be mangoes. Personally, I can take them or leave them, but I know the fanatic devotion with which most people regard the fruit. So in tribute to them, and in celebration of the few times I do actually enjoy eating the fruit, here are some approaches to eating mangoes.
Take 1: My Grandfather’s Way of Peeling a Mango.
My grandfather was always the designated gate-keeper to mango eating in our family. An hour before lunch, he would select a few mangoes and settle down at the table with plate, bowl and a sharp fruit knife. He would begin at the wide end of the mango, and cut the skin in a single spiral right to the end. Until I tried it, I never realised how hard this is to actually pull off. It’s easy enough to begin, but much harder to sustain – what I often get is a pile of squiggles.
Once the skin was off, my grandfather would cut the pulp into pieces one inch square, leaving a generous portion on the stone. This was traditional, from the days when children got less then one full mango and fought bitterly over the kottai.
Take 2: My Little Rebellions
I deal with mangoes more or less in the same way my grandfather did, with two notable exceptions: unlike my grandfather, I don’t leave anything on the stone. If we’re doing the delicate thing and eating tiny, even-sized pieces out of bowls, there can be no place for stones. Stones are illicit (I will come to this presently).
The other thing I cannot bring myself to do is to taste the mango until it is ready to serve. My grandfather used to eat the odd sliver and give us breaking news updates about the relative merits of each mango, but I am more austere. There’s a rhythm to the whole process – a ritual element to the task – that I’d hate to interrupt. Besides, it feels like cheating.
Take 3: Rubbing in the Salt
Some mangoes should only be eaten raw. Ripe, they are bland and nauseating. Raw, and with a mixture of salt and red chilly powder, they’re mouth-watering. These mangoes must be cut in long strips, and then into teeth, so that there’s a larger surface area over which to distribute the salt-and-chilly.
Raw mangoes are thuggish things: even the ones that are meant to be eaten ripe taste better when they’ve been brought down by a gang of kids or plucked from trees in the middle of the afternoon, warmed and jounced in pockets as they’re spirited away elsewhere, and smashed with stones before being nibbled at.
Take 4: The Hands-on Approach
More people probably eat mangoes this way than one realises. Admittedly, there is no other way to eat juice mangoes such as rasaal or dussehri, but I know people who eat all mangoes this way.
What you do is, you take a mango and smell it thoroughly first. Then you bite. Allow the juice to drip down your chin. After the first bite, strip the skin away, making sure there’s nothing edible left on it. Then, once the pulp is done with, squish the stone in your fist until you’ve squeezed every last drop out of it. Gnaw at what’s left until your hands and plate are dry.
If it’s a juice mango, spend a minute or two squeezing the whole mango until the inside is all juice just held in by the skin. Then take a tiny nip out at the top, and drink. Don’t panic if the other end breaks and drips – you did want a mess, didn’t you?
In Luis Buñuel’s film, The Phantom of Liberty, people go into a small private room that looks very much like a bathroom to eat their meals. In that film, eating is not something you do or discuss in public. If you’ve ever watched someone else eat a mango the hands-on way, you probably secretly wish they’d just go into the bedroom and eat and not keep smelling their hands in a delirious trance afterwards.
I think someone should devise a personality test based on how one eats mangoes.
This appeared in today's Zeitgeist, in the New Indian Express.
1. I apologise for unaccountably leaving out the mehendi and the peacocks. But I managed to imply a sari, so that should make things ok. (Mangoes are cliche magnets. What can I say? In an ideal world, nobody would talk about them or eat them*).
* The exception is the himayat. If there is a mango worth eating it is that one. In fact, the only one.
2. No pictures, I'm afraid. Children read this blog, I'm told.