For those who know – film, politics, and cricket, are not the only things South Asians obsess about – mangoes are also an obsession in India and Pakistan and for many years that obsession has been translating here, in the UK with the over 4 million South Asian population.
Mangoes are available year-round in the UK, but it’s the mangoes that come from India and Pakistan that is garnering legions of mango fans not just within the substantial South Asian community but also among foodies who look forward to the mango season.
Known as the fruit of kings and the king of fruits, this juicy sweet fruit is grown across India and Pakistan and during May – July is shipped across to large South Asian immigrant and diaspora populations. Demand is high and patriotism even higher.
In this feature our reporter Minreet Kaur spoke to people across the UK to learn more about their fascination with mangoes, the patriotism, and favourite varieties of the exotic fruit.
Founder of Soul Sutras, (a south Asian feminist platform tackling taboos) Sangeeta Pillai told Asian Sunday Online: “I love mangoes: my favourite are Alphonso mangoes. Because they remind me of my summer school holidays in Mumbai. Long hot and humid days that stretched endlessly. We would buy big ‘petis’ or boxes of Alphonso mangoes and slowly work our way through the box. I buy a box, about 7 and I can eat two a day…terribly indulgent but true.”
Sara from London, however, doesn’t have a favourite as long as the mangoes are from India or Pakistan. She said: “I am not bothered where the mangoes are from India or Pakistan as both countries offer a great selection. Mangoes are a big thing in our family, we love them by themselves or a family favourite, mango shake.
“My earliest mango memories are my grandfather sending us crates of them. They’d be appropriately 10kg each and we’d get around 3-4 crates of them over the summer months. They’d be a mix of Sindhiri, Chaunsa, Anwar Ratol – I have childhood memories of the wooden crates in our garage!
“Things changed after a few things, one was when Defra changed the rules on bringing fruit and food into the UK and apparently, it was 9/11 that changed things too. But after that; they were easily available in Southall and Ealing Road.
“I think there’s a real nostalgia to mangoes now, and the smell they invoke when they are in the house.”
For Nadia from St Albans says mangoes invoke many memories. She explains: “The taste brings back memories of happiness of receiving crates at home from different relatives, the excitement of making mango milkshake. My fondest memory is of going to a rural area with a “tube well” with cousins, jumping in the water and emptying crate of “anwar ritol” mangoes to eat in the water. My preference is for Pakistani mangoes followed by Indian mangoes. I will have Hawaiian mangoes from supermarket but taste just isn’t the same.”
While Nadia chooses Pakistani mangoes as her number one, Shila from London finds it hard to decide which are the best. She says: “It’s hard to say which region has the best mangoes, India or Pakistan?
Its widely publicised that the “king” of mango is the Alphonso mango and the history behind it. So, going on that basis I would think wherever the Alphonso variety grows well, even with a different brand or regional name, the Alphonso should in theory take the crown.
“However, I don’t think it’s as simple as that. I believe there are other contenders and there are many varieties that are not available to us in the UK to compare to in my opinion.
In the past year or so, venturing further out for my Asian shopping has not been an option, I have been buying some delicious mangoes locally at a well-known retail warehouse chain. This chain is widely available to many across the country. Imported from Mexico, this variety is named Ataulfo. Absolutely delicious, firm, sweet, a glorious golden colour when ripe and incredibly good value for money. In my opinion a real contender against the so-called king – which has a very short season.”
“So, when it comes to choosing a box it’s not where they are from that’s important to me but more the availability, the quality and the price. I do confess I open the boxes to make sure all the mangoes are unblemished and not overripe and pick the best box with the best lot. For me they all need to be firm, a good colour and still have a couple days of ripening to do. Mangoes are the king of fruits.
Jasbir Kaur from Birmingham however agrees with Nadia, she finds Pakistani mangoes to be the best. “I remember the first time I ate mangoes being with my mother in Punjab, India. I like all types of mangoes but mainly the yellow Pakistani ones.”
So how did the fascination with mangoes come about? Yusuf Varachhia from Dewsbury explains: “I have always liked them from a young age, however, when I was sixteen, we went on a family trip to India, and we picked the mangoes from the trees in my grandfather’s garden/plot and let them ripe before eating them. I think there is a connection to my roots in India, my grandfather and other villages thrive on this business, there are mango trees galore all across the village, plus they are incredibly sweet and tasty. I enjoy the whole excitement around mango season, the anticipation when they are ready to pick and ripen, also reminds me of summer.
I like the Kesar and Rajapuri varieties however, I also really enjoy the Pakistani Chausa which is described as honey as it’s very sweet.
“Every year we get a shipment imported from our village in India and surrounding villages. If we run out there are plenty of other sellers who do the same from different villages in India.
“As its seasonal, you can easily demolish three boxes as a family, you don’t know when you will have them again.
“My parents and the local community are really enthusiastic about them as I guess it reminds them of their childhood growing up in India, they can talk about them for hours and they look forward to the season and will buy as many as they can, no expense spared. The Guajarati community in Dewsbury and Batley are big fans and boxes are pre-ordered and sell out quickly.”
Chandra Sharma from Kent said: “As a child in Punjab, India with my parents I remember having mangoes, it was the best time ever. I love mangoes because they are sweet and also have a variety of uses from pickles, milkshakes? I like all types but the ones that you can squeeze and suck from without having to cut them are the best for me.”
Aysha Collector from Bradford said: “My love for mangoes I guess goes back to my grandfather’s time in India. I remember my late grandfather showing me his mango orchard in Gujarat when I was around 5/6 years. He told me that he planted each tree with his own hands, since then my love of mangoes has forever been etched in my heart, I remember him every time I have Indian mangoes.
“In my mind, Indian mangoes are the best, Pakistani mangoes just don’t match the sweetness of Indian mangoes. Kesar is my favourite closely followed by Alphonso. I use Brazilian mangoes in salad, but otherwise no mangoes can match the taste of Indian mangoes. Although the mango season is short and is limited to us, we tend to get through quite a few boxes a week as a family. Fresh mango milkshake is best when you use fresh mangoes, and when we come back from India, we also bring back bottled mango pulp.
“When I was little and in our family home in India, my grandma used to put the mango out on the floor to ripen them, because the room was upstairs, I use to eat a couple of mangoes upstairs before going down to enjoy some more!
“For me eating mango is not just about a delicious fruit, it’s linked with lots of memories of my beloved India and people who live there.”
Minder from Nottingham says Mangoes are on of ‘her favourite foods!’ “I love sweet food and it feels weird that something so tasty can be healthy.” She Says.
“They remind me of my childhood. My dad always kept us stocked up with multiple boxes during mango season and my mum would always have some cut up ready for us to eat as soon as we got home after school on hot sunny days. I have a feeling we probably ate more than was healthy.
“When I moved away from home for University one of my big life lessons was that supermarket mangos are mediocre. Since then, I depend on Asian stores or more likely – my dad picking them up for us!
“I’ll try whatever I’m given – I don’t tend to pay attention to where they come from, but my dad will point out if one box is nicer than another.”
It seems it’s not only people of South Asian background who enjoy mangoes, Craig Priestley, from West Yorkshire said: “The first time I had mangos was in the Karachi in Bradford in the early 80’s. They are the fruit of kings and really tasty and I love them. It reminds me of years ago in the 80’s with my Asian friends. I like the Pakistani mangoes they are so good. I have one box and they are ripe and ready to eat unlike supermarket chain ones you have to wait a week or two for them to ripen properly.”