We bought this season’s first batch of Mangoes today! Its already mid May and only a person hailing from Konkan would probably understand the lamentful undertone of this statement. Infact, not just a Konkani, any other person who has tasted our most valued contribution to the gastronomic (and ecological) world – Alphonso Mangoes would find this situation pitiable.
The mango season begins from late March onwards and ends by Mid-June. March is too early to buy since the first lot is always very costly. Usually prices correct by mid-April and the quality and quantity of the fruit too improves over this period. By the beginning of June, Mangoes get cheaper, but the quality too deteriorates. When I was growing up, we’d buy chests and chests of mangoes during summer vacation. My cousins would usually visit us during the period and then we’d have this daily mango-time in the morning. I remember my grandmother rationing mangoes in order to ensure that we didnt overeat (which caused heat-boils). She’d also make sure, we each had a glass of milk after we ate mango every morning. The mangoes then would be large in size and have red-pink-orange tint and smell heavenly. They became more and more popular over the years, and nowadays, such fruit as I described is only of export quality (hence not available for us sinful locals). Nevertheless, prices of ordinary alphonso mangoes too have sky-rocketed. At one point I remember my mother bargaining for a chest of mangoes (containing ~ 50 mangoes) for Rs. 350. Today we bought a mere dozen of mangoes for more than Rs. 1000. Gone are the days of chests after chests of mangoes which would be consumed as fruit, pulp, jam, milkshake, ice-cream over the period of summer vacation. Neither do we have that many mangoes in the market (they get exported) nor do we have lot of money to buy..
A trip to the mango vendor is not for the limited purpose of buying mangos, but also to purchase the entire year’s stock of, other goodies from Konkan. Some of these items are available locally throughout the year, but the taste, the flavour, the aroma never reaches to the authentic Konkan level. Again, I suppose this is something which not many people (except those from Konkan of course) will get. The mango vendors are usually some plantation owners from Konkan who set up temporary stalls during the mango season. So all that they sell is fresh and original ‘made in Konkan’ stuff. If I sing songs of Kuleeth Peeth (flour) – to a larger part of the world including North India that would sound odd since it is actually a cattle feed – but in Konkan, we use the Kuleeth flour to make Kuleeth Pithla (which is a heavenly concoction of only Kuleeth flour, chillies, oil, garlic and Kokam skin, can be made in less than 10 minutes, has creamy consistency and must be eaten with cooked rice), Pickles/amboshis (of innumerable varieties), other seasoning food such as mirgunda, chikawadya, papads, metkut (kind of powder made of rice and some lentils and spices and tastes amazing when mixed with curd/ghee/or even plain), goda masala, amsul (dried Kokam skin), Kokam agal (extract of Kokam fruit which is used to make our famed Sol kadhi – which is a made with mere coconut milk, Kokam agal, cummin seeds, chillies, coriander and a pinch of sugar and tastes amazing). Then you have Amba/Fanas poli (sun-dried pulps of Mango and Jackfruit), Kaju gar (Cashews) and cashew fruit jam / jelly, supari (Areca nut), numerous sharbet mixes (mango, gooseberry, kokam) etc. With my limited knowledge of my community, I am aware of only these popular items sold here in Mumbai. Given the vast cultural diversity within Konkan region itself, I wonder how much I might be missing out on….though I hope to discover most of it someday…