Friday, August 20, 2010

Falling in Love with Alphonso

I was sixteen before I ate a mango. We lived in Puerto Rico in a dilapidated old house with a big tree in the front yard. It bore fruit, which for Alaskan transplants was an act akin to a miracle. We gathered the large ovals, golden with a tinge of red-orange, as greedily as if we were hoarding treasure, and immediately ate them. They were appallingly juicy, tangy and sweet, with a vague taste of turpentine. The peel was tough and we had no idea that we weren't supposed to eat it. Perhaps that's where the turpentine flavor lurks, because I've never found it in a mango since.

In Thailand mangoes are as much a staple as rice. Green mango salad, or somtam, is unofficially the national dish and I have eaten a pick-up truck load of this since I first encountered it. It comes in different versions and different incendiary values. I've lain awake at night for hours with my hands on fire because I made the mistake of eating somtam and sticky rice with my fingers. On the other hand, I ordered it once at a street stall in Ubon Ratchatani and was given shredded mango and peanuts with no chili at all, out of deference for my delicate farang taste buds. I almost sent it back for firepower and then realized that the pure, clear flavor of the mango was like eating cold water.

Less frequently I indulge in mango and sticky rice with coconut cream--it's seasonal and rich and no doubt capable of clogging every artery in my body. I've discovered that if the mango is ripe enough, it is completely luscious without the coconut cream, since the sticky rice is already permeated with it.

I thought I was a mango connoisseur until I had lunch with my friend Amrit in Hong Kong. She ordered dishes I had never had before--I'm still haunted by the butter chicken, which has been unequaled by any place that has served it to me since--and for dessert she chose mangoes with vanilla ice cream. But these were no ordinary mangoes, the menu told us--they were Alphonso mangoes that glowed on our plates.

An ice cream fanatic, after my first taste of mango, I let the vanilla ice cream melt. Its coldness numbed the taste of the mango slices and that was very close to sacrilege. Every mouthful of the Alphonso was a little explosion of sweetness and juice, with a velvety texture that was like a caress. It was almost an act of public indecency to eat this anywhere but in private and I forced myself not to moan.

I am not moving to Penang just so I might be able to savor an Alphonso mango or two in the Indian section of Georgetown, but I certainly hope that I do. They are like Eve's apple--one bite and the world changes forever.


JD said...

yes, Yes, YES !! Alphonso mango - That's the one :p

Janet, are you really moving to Penang now? That's very exciting! I hope you find a WONDERFUL place to live, sunny, by the water, good price, on a quiet street, on a busy street, whatever it is you are looking for :p

JD said...

Then maybe you and bou and I can enjoy a happy hour sunset on a balcony somewhere in the not too distant future and when you have a time out moment from writing ;)

janet brown said...

Yes--let's plan on doing that--and eating crab pohpia on Gurney Drive and finding the best seafood place on the island--the kind of place on a beach where we can eat with our hands and get really messy and it won't matter.

janet brown said...

And as far as a place to live goes, I want light and space in the old part of Georgetown, with wifi and room for guests--not too much to ask, is it?

Kim said...

I love this post for 2 reasons. I didn't know you've lived in Puerto Rico. And it made my mouth water for mangoes.

janet brown said...

Hi Kim--
Yes our bond is we both were nomadic in our years with our parents--and after too.
Mangoes in the US are not right--not even the champagne mangoes from the Philippines.