Mangifera indica L.

Summer is in the air! And that means the fruits of the season will soon be making their appearance, one of which is the mango. April and May are the months when the ripened fruits are at the height of their glory although we now enjoy them all year-round. Before they are at their sweetest, we snack on green mangoes to satisfy our sour cravings.

My blogging relative, Santos, has opened the season with her smokin’ mangoes post last week. And what shall I do? Finish what I started by thinking of my mango memories before adding on to them another sweet summer. And sorry I’m late for my own deadline (technical trouble).

I never would have thought Philippine mangoes had such an excellent reputation as far as fruits are concerned. A few years ago, in the dead of winter in Bonn, I was in a workshop where the heat of the discussions was inversely proportional to the cold outside. I was then a relative novice at such meetings but I had with me a secret weapon. Every time tempers flared, I took out a bag of dried mangoes and had it passed around the table. The trick never failed to douse a potential conflagration.

It was then that a Mexican colleague mentioned how in his country the best mangoes are called Manila. I have heard of manila paper, manila envelopes and manila hemp but Manila mangoes? (And then, just last month I found out there are Manila bananas.) I was amused because mangoes are not grown commercially in Manila, unlike in Cebu, Guimaras and Zambales. Of course I’m being silly and literal here.

From my colleague’s comment, I was no longer surprised when I was deemed a “mango snob” by non-Filipinos each time mangoes are served and I choose other fruits. The reason actually is that I would rather sample fruits not commonly found in the Philippines if I’m out of the country.

So, what makes our mangoes special? For Filipinos, it’s more than just the smooth, velvety sweet taste of the ripe fruit that is almost like nectar. They also evoke memories of childhood and lazy days. If indeed the fruit originated from the Indian sub-continent (so the name Mangifera indica), it has adapted well and evolved best in the Philippines. The mango or mangga has inspired a lot of songs and poems and even its own romantic legend that plays on its heart-shape, which goes to show how it is loved by Filipinos. In fact it is our national fruit.

The romance of the mango does not start with the fruit however. The tall, stately trees make for excellent covers for children playing hide-and-seek or for climbing. A tree in the yard of our elementary school had a part of its trunk lying to one side, apparently a victim of a strong typhoon or perhaps of the big flood of 1972. It survived the calamity and continued to grow just as majestically, the trunk serving as a playground for naughty grade schoolers, pretending that it is a train, a house or whatever suited their fancy at the time. For sure, childhood memories are not just of eating green mangoes with bagoong, or devouring the ripe ones, peeled by hand with the juice from its sweet succulent flesh dripping on the chin and clothes, to the eternal consternation of mothers who have to do the laundry.

Tender olive-coloured mango leaves, called tulud or putat (also talbos in Tagalog) are chopped and mixed with tomatoes and onions with patis or fish sauce as seasoning for a flavourful salad that goes well with fried fish or meat. These very young leaves are usually abundant after a few days of rain and are thus associated with the arrival of the rainy season.

Now for the fruits, I took for granted that everyone had mangoes the way we do. Since we eat unripe and ripe mangoes with equal enthusiasm, we have developed some preferences for varieties depending on what we want to eat. Carabao mangoes (dinamulag in Kapampangan), also known as Philippine super mangoes in Europe and perhaps are the manila variant in Mexico and parts of North America, are the sweetest and best variety served ripe. To those who have not yet had a taste, they have the consistency and texture of firm peaches, and intensely sweet yet not overpowering. The mature but still green fruits are picked from the trees by hand or sungkit – a long thin pole, usually bamboo, with a bag tied on its end to catch the fruit. These are then placed in baskets called tiklis or kaing, covered with newspapers or brown paper to hasten their ripening.

The carabao mango is also eaten green with bagoong (baguc or salted shrimp fry paste) but the pico (or piko) is more sour, usually preferred by conceiving women, to partly relieve nausea. The pico mango is also ripened for dessert and is almost or can be as sweet as the carabao variety.

The Indian mango is a small and plump variant which is best eaten unripe. The ripe fruits are not only a bit bland but have an aftertaste which is supposedly like medicine. The largest mango in the picture at the end of the entry and the ones in the basket above, are of the Java variety, which is around a foot long when fully grown, is good for sour snacking and pickling but it’s too bland-sour to be served ripe. In the picture below are slices of Java mango. Side-by-side with my usual bagoong I tried the Hawaiian dip (sugar, salt, a bit of soy sauce and pepper), according to Lance, and the Thai dip (salt, sugar and some ground chillies), courtesy of Thess, who is not Thai but a Filipina in the Netherlands. Lance’s dip is what he said it to be, all the different flavours in one bite. Very flavourful. The Thai dip is quite reminiscent of the spicy tamarind preserves one buys in Bangkok. Sweet, sour, salty and spicy. Should I dare say unmistakably Asian?

The señorita mango, if my memory serves me right, is also very sweet but it’s not usually sold commercially because of its very small size (half palm-sized). The pajo (Mangifera altissima Blco.), which is endemic to the Philippines, is approximately 2×1 inches, is also eaten green and sliced half through the seed and pickled with sugar and salt. The pickled pajo is best eaten with steamed shrimps. Ooooohhh, I can hear complaints now, hehehe!

This is the mango landscape in my memory. Although I haven’t really tasted any mangoes abroad but now I am starting to believe that we may have the best mangoes. Come to think about it, even Filipino children growing up abroad seem enamoured with the fruits. My nieces and nephew in Canada once asked their mom to take pictures of the mango tree and the fruits when she came home sometime back. If she can’t take home the fruits, they’d be happy with the images. And when they’re in the Philippines, mango-mania just happens.

One little Fil-Austrian boy I met at the airport seemed to be afflicted too. He was a cute three-year old who insisted on guarding his stroller-bag with his life. I attempted to help him on boarding time but he vigorously shook his head. He wouldn’t even let his mother. I found out later on that he fell in love with Philippine mangoes at first bite and all he had in his luggage were fruits he hand-picked himself and thought of bringing home to Austria. Oh my! Precious cargo indeed.

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For our guessing game, the names of the mangoes are, from left to right:

  1. the vendor said it’s a Hawaiian mango but I think it’s a señorita (yes Celia, there are also mangoes of that name, I just found out recently and remembered something of them from my childhood), it’s too large to be a pajo;
  2. pico;
  3. Indian;
  4. carabao; and
  5. Java

For more pictures of mango varieties, please visit the University of Florida’s Mango Archive. This is part of their Tropical Fruit Picture Archive which Ian Maguire patiently built up through the course of several years.

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