Saturday, June 12, 2010

Two Minutes Older: How To Eat A Mango

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.


Earthwitness said...

Nice post. Thought I'd share my obsessive-compulsive mango eating algorithm because it's something I have developed recently after restricting myself to kachchi kairi for years.

Till last month, I couldn't get myself to eat ripe mangoes because they were so...semiliquid and drippy. Nor could I bear to eat Mango cut by someone else - coz, imagine all the juice trickling freely down someone's hairy arm picking the flotsam of bacteria along the way. He he.

Now I first peel mango onto a newspaper, dice onto a plate, then runnnnn like Lady Macbeth to wash the juice off my hands. And then I eat daintily with a fork, before getting rid of all the conspicuously pappy slivers that disgrace my plate, leaving only the chunky, well-shaped ones behind. 'Choosa' (rasaal) is still totally out of question. Maybe someday, I will devise a no-drip algorithm for them as well.

that's ma mango story for you :) Am glad I found SOME way to eat it finally.

Fëanor said...

One of David Suchet's Poirot episodes has him extremely daintily cutting open and scooping out a fine mango - your earlier commenter might appreciate the technique very much.

Mahesh Kalaal said...

While I am eating a mango, nothing else in this world matters to me, except licking my fingers :) :) :)

km said...

"Banarasi Langda" FTW. The South and the West are mere pretenders. (Bring it on, Alphonso poseurs.)

And why have I never heard of this "smashing with a stone" business? I mean, who smashes mangoes with stones? Is this a regional thing? (Mangoes after being stoned is quite another experience, but this is a family-friendly blog..)

Space Bar said...

earthwitness: i presume you weren't going to lick said hairy person's arm, but with mango eaters...who knows? Also, surgical gloves.

feanor: poirot is much too precise a person for mangoes. I'm surprised all those curves didn't offend him.

mahesh: in that case, i hope you're eating a mango when the world ends.

km: oh please. have you even *tried* a himayat? langdas can just cower in their buckets of water.

smashing with stone plus salt makes the mango slightly iron-gray. tastes *much* better.

km said...

have you even *tried* a himayat?

What?? And risk eternal banishment from the Langda Kingdom?

//never eaten a Himayat. And now I want to. (But only because I want to prove you wrong.)

km said...

smashing with stone plus salt makes the mango slightly iron-gray.

Astonishing. I've never once heard of this methodology.

Anyone else here who can corroborate this technique?

gaddeswarup said...

"Anyone else here who can corroborate this technique?"
I can. If you were wandering around mango groves early in the season or target stray trees, either smashing with a stone or throwing it against a hard surface were the only possibilities since one did not always carry a knife ( though sometimes we carried packets of salt and cilli powder). With the mangos meant for making pickles that was the only way to eat. But now after my 15 year stay in Bombay I prefer Alphonso to all I tried in Andhra and Delhi.

Banno said...

Ohkay, I'm going to post something for you very soon. :)

Earthwitness said...

@SITC: LOL. licking? hairy? arm? That's the most purely horrifying image anyone ever left me with.

@Feanor: The method is flawless except it leaves a lot of pulp on the stone, something only Poirot can probably afford.

km said...

If you were wandering around mango groves early in the season or target stray trees, either smashing with a stone or throwing it against a hard surface were the only possibilities

@gaddeswarup: I realize there may be a regional variance here. I grew up relishing Langda and Dussheri varieties, and their unripe fruit can easily be eaten in that form. So that's probably why I've never had to smash open a mango.

//Space Bar: Mango-eating as anthropology. This fruit is serious stuff.

dipali said...

You don't do the mango boat thingie?
I don't either, but it looks elegant.
Slice both cheeks (Sounds painful) off the seed, score in a grid till the peel, then press from the peel side and delicately spoon squares of mango off the peel. I personally prefer to eat my mangoes in solitude, though I do cut them nicely for my far more refined better half!

??! said...

I'd have thought that somebody would've mentioned the 'badaami/baadami' variety by now, but apparently it's off the radar.

Am I the only one who's most enamoured by its odd little rounded shape, it's slightly rubbery smell, and a peel so thin you'd think it was borne by a kiwi?

km said...

??!: Badaami - isn't that "strain" grown/available only in the Karnataka region? (Or am I thinking of a variety known as "raspuri"?)

Space Bar said...

banno: post, post!

earthwitness: yay! i cause someone nightmares! also, this means i can't shorten your handle to 'ew', right?

swarupgaru: thanks for corroborating - that's how I also used to get at the mangoes.

km: there's a dissertation in there somewhere (notice how i passed up the op to make stupid puns).

dipali: i have, on occassion, done the boat, but it was no fun.

??!: welcome back! no, i've never heard of it, at least not by that name. sounds like a neelam or something.

gaddeswarup said...

'badaami, 'jehangir' etc were also grown in Krishna, Guntur districts. Not extensively but there would be a couple of them in many groves. I remember one called 'laddu' but I saw only one tree by that name in the fifties and it is no longer there. It is possible that they are called by different names in different places.

Earthwitness said...

isn't badami banginpally?

@SITC: on the contrary, feel free to call me that. I feel more like an Ew than an earthwitness.

gaddeswarup said...

"isn't badami banginpally?"
Possible. I just remembered the name and not the variety. Should have been more careful; I could see 'jehangir' fruit but not the fruit on the tree near it and assumed that it was badami.

Earthwitness said...

i think totapuri and banginpally are tops

km said...

Swarup / Earthwitness: thanks for that brief refresher course :) It's always nice to hear those names ("totapuri", "badami") etc after *ages*.

//A variety of mango called "Laddu"? Being a connoisseur of both laddus and mangoes, I am naturally intrigued.

gaddeswarup said...

About 'laddu', I saw it in only one place Avanigadda (my father's village in Krishna district). It was outside my grandfather's mango grove on the edge of a field belonging to one of his cousins. It was round about two inches in diameter. It was quite good but I did not see it anywhere else. I visited those places only during vacations and after 1956 I have been living mostly ouside Andhra. So my memory cannot be trusted though some things come back during these conversations. As far as I can recall, the popular varieties in that area were Banginapalli, Himanipasand/himandi. Two varieties which were not that good 'neelam' and 'chittoor' were also grown since they yielded fruits much later than others. There were various 'rasams', juicy and fibrous; some of the varities were quite sour when not ripe and were also used for pickles. There were special sour varities for pickles without any names, possibly people learnt from experience that they were good for pickles. There were isolated trees along roads and backyards. Sometimes a few were stolen from such trees and sharing them needed breaking them to pieces and salt and chilli powder helped because many of them were sour. In addition most groves had a few fancy ones like jahangir/jaangri. Probably names varied even with in Andhra. I cannot vouch for all these 'facts' but I do not remember any interesting practices like this from Bihar:

km said...

gaddeswarup: a 2-inch dia mango? Now I've heard everything :)