Why you should care
It’s never been easier to get hold of great mangoes. Especially if you’re in New York City.
Even in the booster seat, I was a fool for mangoes. I’d reach the pit before anyone noticed, my chubby face solemn and covered in pulp — mangoo. This shameless, sticky gluttony remains. I learned to share crayons and wait my turn, but never would I share or wait for a mango. That drupe brings out the id in me.
As it does for much of humanity, from all I can see. The pit soothes teething toddlers, and for adults the orange flesh can cure the blues, lay waste to stress, smooth irritation. I wouldn’t be surprised if mangoes were shot through with dopamine. Or something. Mangoes are aphrodisiacs in some cultures and gestures of political goodwill in others, but world over they are happy food. School’s-out food, freedom food, lick-the-juice-off-your-forearms food. If you’re allergic, I pity you. If you don’t like them, I don’t trust you.
Does Delhi have Mexican mangoes, touched with chili and lime? Does Bangkok have the luscious Haitian Francique?
Adults sometimes require a justification for gluttony, and so the mature mango fiend tends to chauvinism or nostalgia; he or she claims allegiance to a certain kind of mango from a certain location. Place makes taste: the soil, the sunlight, the cultivar, the chances of cross-pollination. But memory makes taste too. So while the mangoes my family ate in the Midwest came from Mexico — firm-fleshed fruit with a long shelf-life and skin the color of a turtle shell — my parents found them poor facsimiles of the Totapuris and Dusehris of their own sub-continental youth. The United States barred imports of Indian mangoes, even the Alphonso, supposed king of fruits. My parents called them hapoos, longingly.
But over my lifetime, globalization has put more varieties of mango in the United States than ever before. In 2006, the U.S. opened itself up to imports of Indian mangoes, and Haitian mangoes have been on Whole Foods shelves for at least five years. From Mexico, we now see Ataulfos in addition to the hardy Tommy Atkins of yore, and lately Keitts from Florida and Kents from Ecuador.
Granted, the United States still sees only a fraction of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of mango cultivars worldwide. It’s too expensive for Pakistan’s beloved Anwar Ratol mangoes to get into U.S. grocers, and imports from many countries must undergo a hot bath, or irradiation, before they arrive to kill off fruit flies. Chauvinists claim something gets lost in translation.
We sympathize, but we’re grateful for what we have. Come to New York from around April to July, and you’ll find a mango paradise. Does Delhi have Mexican mangoes, touched with chili and lime? Doubt it. Does Bangkok have the luscious Haitian Francique? Nope. We don’t grow mangoes in the city but we import them like crazy, at least as best as the USDA lets us. The ensuing variety attests to New York’s status as the greatest immigrant hub on earth. Herewith, a key to the best of the Big Mango.
At the south end of Union Square on Manhattan, vendors haul huge blue igloos of Haden or Kent mangoes from Mexico, and the real lure here is the packaging. Vendors skin and slice the mangoes, stuff them into quart-sized Ziploc bags and pour in hot sauce, salt or lime — whatever pleases you.
Ah, the beloved mango of my parents’ youth. The Alphonso, or hapoo, leaves folks breathless with anticipation, giddy in the aftermath. Despite being admitted entry to the U.S. in 2006, and all the attendant hoopla, supplies have been erratic and often scant. Data from the USDA indicates just 34,000 pounds of Indian mangoes had found their way to the United States through June 21 of this year. Meanwhile, the EU banned imports of Indian mangoes earlier this year. Just what is India going to do with the glut? Gloat, it seems, and then bloat.
Haiti had exported 17.2 million pounds of the fruit by June 21, most marketed as Francine mangoes. The fruit ends up in the Eastern seaboard cities where Haitian immigrants have landed: Boston, New York, Miami. In New York, Francine mangoes are sold predominantly by fruit-cart vendors (“SWEEET HAITI MANGOES”), though you can find Fair Trade, organic varieties at Whole Foods. A Haitian mango exporter I knew liked to claim that the only proper way to eat a mango was in a swimsuit at the beach, so you can clean off in the waves afterward. Should no ocean be available, eating them over a sink might do.
Video by Tom Gorman. Tom is an OZY video producer.