Indian summer

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Ahead of her first session in the demo kitchen, chef and food writer Roopa Gulati talks about her love of one of India’s greatest gifts to the UK: mangoes

The best way to eat mangoes is in the bath. Messy, juicy and as dribbly as melting ice cream, they’re one of the few respites against the searing heat of an Indian summer. Even on a drizzly day in London, no other fruit matches its heady fragrance and intense tropical nature. It’s with good reason that they’re known as the ‘fruit of the gods’.

In my time in India, from April to July I bought my mangoes in the early morning before the sun unleashed itself. With temperatures pointing north of 40 degrees, mangoes emanate an incense-like aroma, hanging heavy in the air as they continue to ripen in the unrelenting heat.

We’d usually have a dozen fruit on the go at the same time, their voluptuous shapes gently caressed to ensure that they were eaten at just the right moment.

Plump, unpeeled cheeks
When serving mangoes, I like to cut away two plump, unpeeled cheeks from either side of the stone, leaving behind a broad strip of fruity flesh around the hard seed, which is great for nibbling. I cut these cheeks into wedges, which are eaten by hand.

We like to scrape the flesh away from its skin with our teeth and then discard the peel. It’s not the most genteel of sights, but mangoes are the big girls’ blouse of the fruit world, and serving them with dainty cutlery and lacy serviettes would be as soul-destroying as bringing out the silver to tuck into fish and chips. Sticky fingers, mango-smudged chins, and stained clothes are part of the package. 

I reckon that there are more than 500 mango varieties in South Asia, each with their own folklore and history. Alphonsos are the best known mangoes outside of India and are prized for their auburn flesh, buttery smooth texture and perfumed, floral flavour. (They’re named after Alfonso de Albuquerque, a Portuguese general who established colonies in India during the early 1500s).

Exceptionally sweet flavour
The UK imports about 16 million mangoes every year from India, a sizeable proportion of which are alphonso and kesar varieties (renowned for their exceptionally sweet flavour) and are available at Elsey & Bent and Turnips in the Market.

Mangoes are to India what strawberries and summer fêtes are to Britain. Poems are written in their honour; regional competitions held in marquees; lavish festivals hosted in five-star hotels—they’re even treated as symbols of love and fertility at auspicious events.

They’re obliging in the kitchen, too—their rich sweet nature marries well with citrusy ingredients and astringent flavours such as yoghurt, chillies and ginger.

Join me in the Market Hall on the 16th June 12:30-2pm, for a tribute to all things mango. I’m looking forward to seeing you and sharing a taste of tropical sunshine cooking.

Click here to read more about this free event