Banganapalli mango: hail the summer queen
Southern mangoes get unfairly sidelined by northern India's bounty. Will the GI tag for Andhra Pradesh's Banganapalli variety change that?
No one had told me about the mangoes. Not even the Banganapalli.
The South is a different country, sage heads had nodded in agreement as we announced our imminent departure to Bangalore—it was still Bangalore then—after half a decade in Delhi. The peoples, the languages, the work culture and, oh, the food, the food. No more dal makhni the way it should be, unctuous and moreish, no more butter chicken colouring nails orange and unapologetically sinful, no more naans, pillowed and charred, no more Shimla apples rolling off the cart at the turn of the road, no more... no more... no more....
But, as I packed my bags that November, what I really apprehended was summer. For all my years on earth, spent across the arc of northern India, from Bengal to Gujarat, the dreadful months of April-May-June had been eased by the anticipation of the mango. First, the tart varieties, livening up boring dals on hot afternoons or winding up lunches in delicious chutneys. In Calcutta, where I grew up, the Bambai—now nearly extinct, alas—ushered in the eating season, to be succeeded by the Himsagar, the Dussheri, the Langra, the Fazli, the Gulabkhas, each more storied than the other. In Gujarat, I discovered the Kesar and multiple different ways of eating it. How could the South possibly compare?
But no one had told me about the mangoes.
That’s a bit of an exaggeration because my beleaguered dad, as the only family member who had spent time down South, dredged up from memory the Imampasand. As someone partial to the bounty of Bengal, Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh, his eloquence on the varietal—fragrant, fleeting—made me take heart. And so, as March turned into April, I kept my eyes peeled for the fruit—and I was bedazzled.
First came the Badami, perfect paisleys, a cousin of the Alphonso. Sweet, but not unduly so, and certainly not cloying, unlike the Ratnagiri star of the family, it has that quality rare to fruits: Character. Each fruit is a precise, unpredictable handful. Pluck it too early and it will be inedible; too late, and it collapses into overripe mush. At its peak though, it’s an inviting golden yellow, holding its shape when cut, no unsightly strings or striations in sight. Two of these in one go is a recommended dose for those missing the Himsagar.
Then, suddenly, the petite Badamis were being nudged out by the Malgova. Legend has it that Hyder Ali’s orchards in Mysore grew this varietal, each fruit weighing between 1 and 1.5kg. The ones in the Bengaluru markets are considerably lighter but they still look, shall we say, over-large, even ungainly: Unlike other headlining varieties, this one doesn’t turn a welcoming yellow with maturity; a pink/red blush at the tip is the only indicator of ripeness. The large stone can also leave one feeling cheated. But the flesh is distinctive, sweet with just a hint of an underlying tartness.
And then, like a diva who’s waited for the red carpet to be cleared of the riff-raff, enters the Banganapalli. Generous in size, lightly aromatic, an elegant pale yellow in colour with a restrained sweetness and a not unpleasant fibre factor, this is the mango for grown-ups. Like the Malgova, it comes from Andhra Pradesh and it is now the latest product of the state—and the first mango—to bag a Geographical Indication (GI) tag.
In technical terms, it means that mangoes grown in the vicinity of Banganapalle, a town in Kurnool district (as well as secondary areas such as Khammam, Mahabubnagar, Adilabad), can be called Banganapalli—just as tea grown only in Darjeeling can be referred to as Darjeeling tea, or wooden toys crafted only in Channapatna, Karnataka, can be described as Channapatna toys. In other words, it affirms the French idea of terroir, of soil and climate and human skills creating a unique matrix for a particular traditional product or variety, enshrined in European Union schemes such as Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) or Protected Geographical Indication (PGI).
While the tea now has its own book—Darjeeling, by Jeff Koehler—and Channapatna has inspired conscientious entrepreneurs, the Banganapalli will be more difficult to read down or replicate. I’d suggest you take up the challenge: Tackle the fruit at the dining table with a knife and a fork, to titillate the adult in you. Or bring out the inner child by standing over a sink, tearing off the skin with your teeth, trying to stop the pale juices running down your hands. After a couple of minutes, chuck the challenge, surrender to the fruit. And crown yourself the winner.