Since it’s the height of summer and therefore the height of the mango season, the majority of the roadside fruit stalls are selling mangoes of almost every shape (big, small, round, oval, human heart-shaped) and colour (red, orange, yellow, green). Having heard so much about how delicious Indian mangoes are, I’ve been waiting for the mango season with anticipation – and haven’t been disappointed!
The number of different varieties to choose from is mind boggling: Badami, Kesari, Mallika, Alphonso, Raspuri, Sendura, Malgoba, Totapuri and Banganapalli are just a few. So far I think I prefer Badami and Alphonso mangoes (which are supposed to be the best and the most expensive). I’ve also learnt that every Indian fruit has its accompanying condiment… watermelon is eaten with black salt, for example! For mangoes it’s sea salt and chilli powder. But I like them just as they are.
For the past month I’ve noticed a curious fruit being sold on almost every street corner that looks like a big brown nut. I asked my friend Sudha what this large brown fruit is that looks like a giant hazelnut. She told me it’s called nungu in Tamil and that it comes from the Palmyra (palm) tree. It’s similar to a coconut because it has a hard outer shell that the vendor breaks open with a knife. Inside is the white fleshy jelly-like fruit which can be eaten with sugar and cardamom powder and – of course - chilli. I ate it ‘plain’ and found it very pleasant and refreshing – similar to the flesh of tender coconut but sweeter.
Next I paid a visit to the stalls selling a huge fruit that looks like some weird underwater sea creature. This is jackfruit, which is – not surprisingly – the largest tree-bearing fruit. This is also the ugliest fruit I’ve ever seen, and the one I’ve been avoiding… but I decided to put on a brave face and try it. The huge carcass is chopped open with a big knife to reveal yellow rubbery sheaths wrapped around seeds the size of a large lima bean. This rubbery flesh has a slightly unpleasant smell but the taste is sweet and similar to the taste of melon.
While looking for information on this strange fruit I found this description written in the 16th century by the Mughal Emperor Babar, which made me laugh out loud:
“The jackfruit is unbelievably ugly and bad tasting. It looks exactly like sheep intestines turned inside out like stuffed tripe. It has a cloyingly sweet taste. Inside it has seeds like hazelnuts that mostly resemble dates, but these seeds are round, not long. The flesh of these seeds, which is what is eaten, is softer than dates. It is sticky, and for that reason some people grease their hands and mouths before eating it. The fruit is said to grow on the branches, the trunk, and the roots of the tree and looks like stuffed tripe hung all over the tree.”
Another common sight is the piles of green ‘tender’ coconuts by the roadside. The water of these young, green coconuts is refreshing on a hot summer day. The vendor chops open the top of the coconut and cuts a hole though which he slides a straw so the water can be drunk. Sometimes the water tastes a bit like carbonated water depending on how fresh the coconut is. The water is also very good as a rehydration remedy because of its sugar and mineral content. Once you’ve finished drinking the water, the vendor will chop open the coconut and also cut a piece of the husk so you can use it as a spoon to eat the soft tasty flesh.
Watch a coconut vendor cut open a coconut: