In London in late spring boxes of Alphonso mangoes begin to stack up around the shop doors in the Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi precincts. Pretty tissue paper and shredded silver tinsel provide a nest for the fragrant treasures in each box, which are air-freighted from the sub-continent to be consumed within days if not hours of picking.
The excitement over the arrival of these limited-season “king of fruits” is itself an import from India where quality, price and availability become a national obsession from April to June, especially in Mumbai where the Alphonso is the only variety many locals will bother with as a cut fruit.
The golden flesh is soft, creamy and sweet (unlike many of the more fibrous kinds we’re used to).
So it was a surprise to Indian growers and British fans when the EU put a sudden ban on imports of the fruit from May 1 this year, citing pests in some shipments – no threat to human health but potentially a threat to British glasshouse crops.
The debate has reached the highest levels of Anglo-Indian politics with British prime minister David Cameron receiving a box from British Asian Labour MP Keith Vaz days before the ban, and promising the issue was on the agenda for when he met the new Indian prime minister Narendra Modi (see this BBC article here).
The hope is the ban can be lifted in coming months with the EU sending an audit team in September to examine improved pest containment measures (see this Times of India article here). Devotees like Yotam Ottolenghi, who has produced incredible recipes with Alphonso mango like these ones in the Guardian and his incredible mango coconut rice from Plenty, republished here on epicurious, will be looking out for a win-win.
Mangoes have been grown in India for centuries, cited in Hindi and Buddhist scripts and by European travellers. The Alphonso mango is the result of grafting techniques introduced to India by the Portuguese. There are other similar sweet cultivars in India but its the Alphonso that has captured the collective food psyche in India and abroad.
Here in Auckland, New Zealand, the joy in Alphonso mangoes is alive among the Indian diaspora in Auckland’s Sandringham, a hub of Indian food and culture. Shoppers from the breadths of greater Auckland are happily purchasing several boxes at a time at the bustling Spice Supermarket for $50/box as the season draws to a close.
In fact, it was only in recent years that the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade lifted a ban on Indian fruit and vegetables, allowing New Zealanders to share in international Alphonso mango bounty. Get in before the season ends!