Nepali Times
Mango fever



The star monsoon life form is the mango-crazed Kathmandu resident. This drooling, slavering, often spotty creature in soiled shirts eats, quite literally, tons of mangoes -estimates vary from 9 to 90. A day.

Mango fever is a trait we share with our South Asian brethren, politics be damned. Mangoes actually originated here some 25 to 30 million years ago according to genetic family tree tracing and carbon dating of fossils (hey, we said this was serious business).

In myth and in literature we and our neighbours have always celebrated the mango. There is a mango story attached to every major (and even minor) character in folktales and myths. There is not one set of lovers that does not rendezvous in a mango grove. Consider this gem of more recent vintage: "Ma mahuri hu radha, timi aanp ke manjari hau ("I am a bee, Radha, you are a flowering mango tree"- perhaps this loses something in translation.)

The 'fruit of the gods' timeline is murky, but makes for a great story-Parvati loved mangoes and missed them so terribly when she came with Shiva down to the Himalayas that her attentive and caring consort brought the celestial fruit to our lowly world to please her. Please do not bother us with the logic of 'how can mangoes grow in icy Himalayan caves'.

The result of this obsession is that in Kuleswor's wholesale fruit market today you see everything from perfect Nepali-grown maldahas and dasheris to elusive Indian hapoos and banaganallis. The kalami, or 'developed' commercial varieties are the commonest, including the maldaha, bambaiya, calcuttia, and dasheri, but keep an eye out for the few genuine super-local indigenous varieties that survive, such as the supariya, sinduriya, and keraba. Increasingly, Kathmandu's mangoes are not Indian, but from the eastern tarai districts, Kapilbastu, and Banke.

Mangoes are cheapest at this time of the year, with maldahas at Rs 40-50 a kilo, which suits most of us fine. There is this hankering after the super-expensive alphonso, or hapoos (a crate of twelve will set you back Rs 700), but those in the know are dismissive of it. "Hapoos are popular among the moneyed, but they're not terribly tasty," says Kuleswor wholesaler Saroj Shrestha. "Maldahas are better."

Ah yes, the maldaha, so perfect for relaxed eating. With an average-sized pit and lots of juicy flesh, it can be cut hedgehog style or sliced into long thin pieces.

Just remember those wine snobs who fail in blind tastings, though, and don't kid yourself that you always know what you're eating. "People will buy any kind of mango if you tell them it is a maldaha," smirks Jungi Lal, a bicycle vendor. "Few can tell a real one from a fake."

One way not to look a fool is to explore other varieties. The skinny dasheri is perfect if you lop off one end suck out the flesh from there. The banganapalli is a seductive plump orange-red. Bombaiyas and calcuttias are good for drinks and shakes. Smaller varieties like chausa and jarda are better off in pickles.

There are hill mangoes, but opinion split straight down the middle on the relative merits of those from Salyantar in Dhading and those from Kabhre-Sindhupalchok. It\'s a moot discussion, though, because you can't buy hill mangoes in the markets. They come with an added dose of protein-worms.

Everything else about mangoes justifies the habit on health grounds. With up to 15 percent sugar, it's not a diet fruit, but the mango does have large amounts of vitamins A, B and C, and minerals including zinc, magnesium and potassium. It's a sort of superfruit, in fact. The mango, its tree bark, its leaves, and even its flowers, all have many therapeutic properties: a whole lot of antis-viral, septic, helminthic, asthmatic and biotic, expectorant, laxative and, with cruel irony both contraceptive and aphrodisiac.

This king among fruits deserves as much attention as it gets. It's amazing how different varieties of a single fruit can taste, and how much subtle, yet identifiable variation there can be between different batches of the same variety. We should have mango-tasting sessions, like wine and whiskey tastings and neighbourhood mango-themed potlucks. We should ban bandas during mango season so the precious fruit doesn't rot away waiting to go places. We should declare one month of every summer Mango Month and be happy, simply because we have mangoes.

That texture, that sweet, sweet taste-what better way to spend the monsoon than at home, with a big pile of the golden fruit, munching, slurping, drooling, and gulping away. Invest in a bib.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)