Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Hey Mango

Mangos. I heart them to pieces. More like to drippy messy slices.

I ate my first mango at the age of sixteen on a trip to Brazil to visit my best friend who was studying there for a year. I was so taken with this fruit that when I think back on my food and drink consumption during that visit, the things that immediately spring to mind are Brazilian cafezinho (Brazilian coffee boiled with sugar, strained through a cloth strainer and served in little cups with sweetened condensed milk), Guaraná soda pop (made from a local tropical fruit, with an extraordinarily high caffeine content), and ripe mangos. Yep, I was one wired little sixteen year old when I got back home from that vacation.

For years after that trip, I eagerly looked forward to the months in which mangos were in season. I would always eat them plain, perhaps with a bit of yogurt, and then one day about eight years ago I was walking around the Garment District in downtown Los Angeles, and I saw a teenage girl chattering in Spanish and selling mangos which had been peeled and sliced and wrapped in a paper towel, for a dollar each. What intrigued me was that after she cut the mango, she would sprinkle some lime juice and salt and chili powder all over the slices. Given my fondness for odd and unusual and seemingly contrasting taste experiences (I recently subjected Eddie to Pesto Fraise Basilic), I got in line and watched as she peeled and sliced an orange mango, wrapped it in bit of newspaper, and handed it to me.

"What, no lime and chili and salt?" I asked her, my face falling.

She looked a little surprised. "Oh, you want all that? Chili too?"

"Well duh" I said, though probably not in those words exactly.

She sprinkled the mango with a dash of salt and a bit of chili and stuffed a lime wedge in between the slices, and handed it to me.

From that day forth, nearly every mango I've ever prepared for myself has been sprinkled with lime, chili and salt, though I've met a few folks who use cayenne pepper instead of chili powder. Since then, I've come across another delightful recipe at other street food vendors in Los Angeles that is similar but takes it a step further: Combine cucumber and jicama along with the mango, peel and slice all three into thick spears, arrange the spears in a glass or a plastic cup if you're feeling environmentally naughty, and sprinkle with lime, a pinch of salt and just a quick dash of cayenne, not too much as it's quite fiery. A very refreshing and exotic snack, especially during these hot summer months, and hey, the catch phrase "fat-free and lo-cal" never hurts, does it?

But the lovely mango is a ubiquitous world traveler, and can be found in a variety of prepared forms. There's the mango lassi of Indian origins, a yogurt drink that can be served either sweet or salty and provides a particularly pleasing coolness to counteract the spicy heat of that cuisine. Also served on the south Asian subcontinent are green mangos that have been picked before they have ripened and are subsequently crunchy and slightly tart, and are prepared as mentioned in the previous paragraph, with lime and chili powder. Having never been east of Turkey, I've yet to get my sticky fingers on this yummy sounding treat, but I do hope that one day, green mangos will be mine. In France, Berthillon makes a mean mango sorbet, so flavorful that I've actually wondered if it isn't simply just a frozen puréed mango, and nothing else. Finally, when one requests the dessert menu in Thai restaurants in the western United States, more often than not it will list fresh mango served with coconut sticky rice. This is another one of my very favorite dishes, although if you are anything like me, a trip to a Thai restaurant often involves stuffing myself with so much pad thai, that I sadly have to push the coconut rice to the side of my plate and head straight for the mango itself...


Post a Comment

<< Home