A while ago, I was surprised by this gift of a large Alphonso mango. A friend once told me that a couple of Swiss businessmen who travelled to India would receive several kilos of these large mangoes. Sadly only the small, cheaper variety is sold here in Bern, Switzerland!
Alphonso, the king of mangos, are available at the start of the summer season and lasts for just 3 months. My childhood memory is of my mom cooking with this sensationally sweet fruit, wasting nothing - the ripe flesh was eaten raw and the large seed along with the skin was used to flavour our Guajarati daal, yuuuummmmy! I loved to eat hot puris (deep-fried circular puffed bread) dipped in the mango pulp thickened with cream.
As the story goes, Alphonso is named after Alfonso de Albuquerque, a nobleman and military expert who helped establish the Portuguese colony in India and brought the fruit with him. The fruit was then introduced to the Konkan region in Maharashtra, Gujarat, west India and parts of south India. The best and most expensive varieties are grown on the small Natwarlal plantation in Ratnagiri and are hand-harvested. It is this variety that's most widely exported.
A national obsession in India, on par with Bollywood and cricket, the start of the mango season signals the beginning of summer and makes headlines. Newspapers give continuous updates on prices and availability. It's customary to send boxes of Alphonso mangoes to friends, colleagues and bosses as a mark of love and respect. In Mumbai, top restaurants put on mango festivals, and street vendors sell freshly squeezed mango juice. Indians celebrate with "mango parties", using the fruit in dishes such as pakoras, curries, drinks like lassi and falooda, sweetmeats like barfi and desserts such as aamrakhand.
Mango Lassi and Mango crème are most popular in my cooking classes! Unfortunately, about 6-8 years ago, this variety was banned in Switzerland, so I use the tinned pulp. There are other varieties now available in the Indian and Asian stores. I am not a fan of those imported from Brazil, Peru, etc.