Know Your Enemy
So Aam, So Boring: Why I think the mango is such a vastly overrated fruit
Despite being surrounded by the most famous mangoes in the world, I have always found them utterly dull. Except for one.
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When DailyO's editor asked me, quite unexpectedly, if I wanted to write about mangoes, I found myself agreeing instantly. Her request had come just hours after I had departed from my parents' home in Bangalore, where a platter of sliced organic Alphonso had been dessert after the final meal consumed. I didn't go anywhere near it, but as my family picked the plate clean, I wondered what they saw in that miserable variety of a fruit I have always considered overrated.
Alphonso: Yes, the world loves it. I so don't. (Photo: Reuters)
I've had the pleasure (well, mostly displeasure) of tasting a vast sweep of mango types, thanks to parents who are committed aficionados of the fruit, and many summer holidays spent with cousins in the sylvan orchards of Konkan, where days would be spent plucking, storing and waiting for mangoes to ripen. Whole rooms would be carpeted with mangoes, their scent filling the house with sweet warmth.
The four varieties that grew in abundance in those orchards that I remember most were the tolerable Kalpadi, the red-capped Bennet, the fat Mundappa and the Totapuri. The latter two were best consumed raw. The former two were varieties I consumed in large quantities despite not being overly fond of either, perhaps because the fruit had a lure when you had spent weeks watching them grow, plucked them at substantial risk, and then lovingly set them down to finish the last mile to a human mouth in a cool, dark room with newspaper shrouds.
I can still smell those Kalpadis, but it's a fondness built from the memories of those times and people around it than the fruit itself.
No, it's not about you, Kalpadi. It's about those memories. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
I similarly have memories associated with the wholly characterless Badami (a local Alphonso variety, I gather), the massively overrated Chausa — and please don't get me started on the turpentine-like Langda, a fruit that barely qualifies as edible in my opinion. My mother counts Karnataka's great and fragrant (and boring) Raspuri as a favourite alongside the hugely popular Mallika (a cross, I learn, between the awful Neelam and awfuller Dasheri). My father's favourite is the Malgova, which I must admit I cannot remember, so it couldn't have had any substantial effect on me.
The world loves Langda. I can't think why — it tastes like turpentine. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
While I do not for a moment consider myself an expert on mangoes, nor one who wishes to impose his views on others, I find myself compelled to confess that there is only one mango variety that not only passes muster with me, but one that I actively love, seek out, purchase and consume — it is the beautiful Banganapalle of Andhra Pradesh, which goes by the aliases Benishan and Safeda.
A generous mango with a gloriously bold, unpretentious flavour, entirely untarnished by complexity. The smell of Banganapalle lies unparalleled in my repertoire of olfactory triggers. It remains my one tenuous link to the mango world, but one that I hold on to very dearly.
Benishan. Safeda. Banganapalle. Whatever you call it, it's gorgeous. (Photo: India Today)
Happily, the Banganapalle is available in abundance across the country, and is grown well beyond the Kurnool district town from which it gets its name. Surrounded growing up by mango experimenters who've spent hours heckling me for my strict avoidance of non-Banganpalle mangoes, let me say I've been comfortable receding from that world.