What do shrikhand, kulfi and tomato chutney have in common? They all use mangoes as a flavouring agent – in the first two, ripe mangoes are the predominant flavour; in the third, raw mango dice perk up the sourness of the tomato. India’s best loved fruit finds expression in a surprising variety of ways, but that’s the way in Thailand too. If a prize was to be instituted for the most imaginative use of the king of fruit, which country would win? Decide for yourself.
Gudumba is made in many Punjabi households all throughout summer, because of the belief that raw mangoes prevent heat stroke. Raw mangoes are boiled and seasoned with sugar, black salt, chilli powder and black pepper. For my money, the aam ka panna that I ate in a Mathur household two decades ago still makes my mouth water. A watery chutney, with a coarse texture, it featured roasted mangoes and a mélange of spices, of which jira was one. It was sweet, sour and spicy, and I made a meal of it, eagerly extending my katori several times. It was my last invitation to dine at that particular household.
Thais have raw mango salad. Says Chef Veena Arora of Delhi’s Imperial Hotel, who was born and brought up in South Thailand, “Raw mango juliennes are mixed with palm sugar and dry squid as a salad, or they are coarsely pounded with shrimp paste, chillies and sugar as a chutney.”
Chef Arora goes on to describe a favourite breakfast dish, during the mango season, that features polished rice, fried salted fish and raw mango salad. At breakfast time in Gujarat, on the other hand, aamras is eaten with puris, the way mango shrikhand is enjoyed in neighbouring Maharashtra.
We have two types of aam papad – black and sour or light brown and sweet sour. Thailand’s version of aam papad is light brown and has more depth of flavour. In addition, there’s a snack – something like our churan – that features sun-dried juliennes of mango, coated with salt and sugar. Where Thailand scores, is having roadside carts that sell freshly cut ripe mangoes, including a crisp sweet variety of green mango. It is served with an addictive powder of sugar, salt and chillies. I’ve tried making this at home, but it’s never as good somehow.
Where we score is our mango pickle. There are countless versions that differ from each other as they travel around the country. Poor man’s water pickle from Goa is whole raw mangoes in brine, Punjabi aam ka achar treats mango as a vegetable, and Gujarati chhunda is sweet and sour. The Andhra Pradesh version is as spicy as hell. Thailand has nothing comparable.
But they do have a cold drink based on raw mango cooked in sugar syrup and served with crushed ice. We have an outdated mango squash that nobody drinks nowadays. And if we have our kulfi, they have their mango with sticky rice. So who wins the mango sweepstakes? You decide.
People from Goa and Lucknow are convinced that the Alphonso is just a clever marketing stunt. They say that Mankurad and Xaverin (from Goa) and Malihabad (from Lucknow) can take the pants off Ratnagiri’s most famous export.