An Indian summer is seldom complete without mangoes. From the sweltering heat in Mumbai and Gujarat, to the coastal humidity of Kerala and Goa, the delicious mango offers respite. However, in India, the mango is given more of a royal title, wherein it is called the ‘king of fruits’. And there’s many a royal reason for it ….
Shah Jahan had his mangoes from the Konkan coast couriered regularly to his kitchens in Delhi, while his grandfather Akbar cultivated an entire grove. Some emperors poured milk and treacle around the mango tree in the assurance of sweet fruition. The Mughals valued the fruit so much, that some even claim that the paisley design was inspired by the mango, thus becoming a pattern worn to represent elite social status.
Staying true to its imperial value, India grows over a thousand varieties of mangoes – starting from the succulent Moovandan mangoes of Kerala, to the luminous Alphonsos of Ratnagiri in Maharashtra, and the green-hued Himsagar mangoes from Murshidabad in West Bengal.
However, while many in India like to consume these fruits when ripe, certain Indian cuisines use sour mangoes to perfect a dish or two.
Sour mangoes of India
The easiest way to a get a sour mango, in fact, is from the monkeys who would climb a tree and drop it while looking for a sweet one. We would use the sour mangoes and make the most out of it.
In Maharashtra, sour mangoes are abundant in the Konkan region. “Every household has it,” explained Sachin Narhar Joshi, an Indian expatriate in Dubai and owner of Maharashtrian restaurant Peshwa in Dubai. “We primarily use sour mangoes in Kairichi dal, which has a tangy flavour as one would expect. We traditionally make it during Chaitra (usually falls in either March or April), to mark the celebrations for the first month of the Hindu Marathi calendar. The easiest way to a get a sour mango, in fact, is from the monkeys who would climb a tree and drop it while looking for a sweet one. We would use the sour mangoes and make the most out of it.”
Joshi’s wife, Shriya, also explained that sour mangoes are used mainly for kairi panha or aam panha. “We boil the sour mangoes. The pulp, is then mixed with jaggery, spices and salt… some add saffron as well. It is cooked to a jam-like consistency and then mixed with chilled water… very refreshing during the summers, and also reduces heat from the body.
“Sour mangoes are quite abundant in January, and all the way through till July, right before monsoon. We traditionally have sour mangoes during Sankranti. We specifically use it in Chunda – a relish, which combines the flavours of sweet, spicy and sour.”
Speaking of Chunda, the Gujarati Chhundo is similar to it, and also uses sour mangoes to prepare a popular yogurt-based gravy dish called Fajeto.
The Bengali Tok Dal uses sour mangoes as its key ingredient, where the mangoes are lightly flavoured with red chillies and mustard seeds; tenderised and mashed with the lentils. It’s the ultimate summer dish.
Coming to Bengal, sour mangoes are used in three types of dishes – seafood, dal or lentil gravies and chutneys, explained Kallol Chaudhary, an Indian expatriate from Bengal and owner of ‘Pinch of Spice’ in Dubai. “When it [sour mangoes] is added to a main dish, we use it in small quantities. For chutneys, the quantity increases. The Bengali Tok Dal uses sour mangoes as its key ingredient, where the mangoes are lightly flavoured with red chillies and mustard seeds; tenderised and mashed with the lentils. It’s the ultimate summer dish.”
Aam kasundi from Bengal also uses a generous amount of sour mangoes, however, it is blended into a sauce with mustard seeds, mustard oil, garlic, turmeric, and chillies. Many families also add a few chunks in the pulp, cover the mix with a muslin cloth, leave it to season and preserve under the sun for a few days before it is refrigerated and consumed when required.
A key ingredient in south Indian coastal cooking
Raw mangoes are often used in gravies made with vegetables and seafood, sometimes in desserts as well. It adds sourness, but not too much because they are quite sweet.
Travelling down to the coastal regions of Goa and Kerala, sour mangoes are a key ingredient in seafood and cooking of meat. Gulf News Food spoke to Lendl Pereira, an Indian expatriate from Goa who works as the Head Chef at Hyatt Centric Jumeirah, Dubai, who explained that mangoes of all kinds are abound in Goa, all year long.
“Raw mangoes are often used in gravies made with vegetables and seafood, sometimes in desserts as well. It adds sourness, but not too much because they are quite sweet. It was initially used as a substitute for other sour ingredients like lemon and tamarind, and somehow the combination just caught on.
“Goa is known for its prawn curry or Ambot Tik, which uses sour mangoes. It is sliced and then diced, and then added with coconut and jaggery…. So it’s a perfect combination of sweet, sour and spicy.”
Since mangoes are seasonal, most states in India stop cooking with it after the summer months. However, Chef Pereira highlights that one would always find mangoes in a Goan household. “We pickle the mangoes, preserving them beyond the season. It’s often soaked in brine and tightly shut in a jar. We use them while preparing our signature gravies.”
Sour mangoes in Goan cuisine are only limited to seafood dishes for they have a “delicate and tender taste” according to Pereira. “Meats have a stronger taste and texture, and it won’t pair it as I would with a seafood dish like prawn or fish because traditionally fish uses a mix of spice and sourness the world over.”
Kerala’s kannimanga or baby green mangoes are used to make spiced pickles after soaking it for three weeks in brine. Tangy and spicy at the same time, kannimanga achaar is often paired with curd rice or kanji (rice gruel).
Sour mangoes can also be found in the famed mambazha pulissery, a cooling yogurt-based curry made by combining shallots, chillies, coconut and spices. Particularly eaten during the period of Lent prior to Easter, by the Christian communities of Kerala, mambazha pulissery is made quite often and served with jeera rice, or ghee rice (neichoru).
Another Lent season staple is the maanga mappas. Mappas is often made with fish or meat, however, it is substituted with sour mangoes during Lent, and follows the same recipe as a meat or seafood dish. In the south, mangoes are divided into two categories – pulima (sour) and thenma (sweet). While the latter is used primarily as an ingredient in dishes like maanga pachadi, rasam and chutney, sour mangoes are often used as pickle. The famed kadumaanga achaar from Kerala uses sour mangoes, diced and bathed in spices, after which it is preserved in a large ceramic or glass jar.
Today, the sour mango varieties in the south, such as kothakku, adai maangai, thayir kaaichi and vendhaya kaaichi have become quite rare, and are declining in popularity, especially because many have opted for the sweeter versions of the fruit.
However, all is not lost because of Indian restaurateurs and chefs preserving their memories of raw mangoes in recipes they serve; some of which you can find here.
Recipes to try!
- All things mango: 3 must-try cool recipes
- Guide to making Bengali Tok Dal or red lentils
- Kerala meen pachamanga curry or fish curry with raw mangoes
- Asthram: A humble dish that stole my heart
- Recipe for Gujarati Chhundo or grated mango pickle
- This Onam, make Pachamanga Kichadi or raw mango yoghurt with this Kerala recipe
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