Mango heaven

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 April, 2006, 12:00am

The country's adrift, its politics are a catastrophe and events are slowly spinning out of control. Luckily, we still have mangoes. Pale gold, firmly luscious and juicy sweet, the mango is our national fruit of consolation.

If you think I'm exaggerating, you clearly haven't eaten one. And if you're among those for whom the apple is (in a manner of speaking) the top banana, accept my sympathy. You haven't a clue what you're missing. Especially now, since a good mango crop is expected this summer.

In the Philippines, a good mango is like a good politician: hard to find, quick to spoil. I realise I shouldn't push this analogy too far (I use sharp knives to slice mangoes), but at any rate, if you do latch on to a perfect specimen, rejoice. And eat it as soon as you can.

Every country that grows the fruit has a kind of mango chauvinism: they all claim to have the best. You can just type the phrase 'best mangoes in the world' in Google yourself. I did, and found one site that claims the mango is the most widely eaten fruit. Take that, Golden Delicious. Go back to William Tell crossbow-shooting re-enactments.

Really, though, try the Philippine mango and you can forget the 1,000-odd other varieties. This is mango heaven. You'll find mango cakes, pies, ice cream, sweets and syrups. Dried mangoes are an addictive export. The unripened, sour green mango is peeled, then sliced into wedges that are dipped in salt - or in the anchovy and shrimp paste called bagoong. Only pregnant women supposedly eat it, but you'll see men (who don't look at all in the family way) furtively indulging in the snack.

The crowning glory, though, is the fresh yellow carabao mango. Eaten chilled and sliced, it's a powerful antidote to the summer heat. The ideal 'super Manila' mango variety is elongated, pear-shaped, firm and golden yellow. If it's dark yellow, it's usually overripe. Not only does it ripen quickly, it also bruises easily - which means good mangoes don't travel well.

Westerners are generally baffled about how to eat mangoes, and lay into them with a lot of slippery pawing and messy slurping. The elegant way is to lay it on its broad side and slice it into three lengthwise pieces - the large seed and two 'cheeks' (as they're known in Tagalog).

Mangoes are sometimes eaten with sticky rice cakes. They're even used as filling in crepes. But why bother? Eat it as is and realise why, years ago, one German reportedly tried bringing a whole box of the fruit back to Germany. Stopped sternly at customs, he proceeded to eat the lot. He supposedly offered some to the officials, who turned it down. He was probably glad he didn't have to share the golden treasure.

If only all of life were as sweet.