In January 2017, I jumped on a plane and went to South-East Asia for a month. I spent most of my time in Thailand.
While I was there, I was blown away by the fruit. It seemed to be available on every street and in ample supplies in markets. I could buy it whole, or cut and prepared in little plastic bags secured with a rubber band. Everywhere I went, I took the opportunity to try new things.
Durian, jackfruit, dragonfruit, weird-looking bananas, giant perfect grapes, fresh pineapple, coconut water from a fresh coconut… I loved walking through markets and experiencing both new flavours and old favourites.
You’d think the durian would be the most vivid memory, but it was the mango that left the strongest impression.
It was early in my trip. I was in Bangkok and managed to squeeze in an afternoon at Chatuchak Market. Feeling a bit peckish during my exploration, I ordered a mango sticky rice from a stall.
I was handed a small bowl of rice topped with a whole mango that was cut and prepared right in front of me. I found a corner to crouch down and eat. And that’s when I learned what a mango could taste like.
A real mango
In New Zealand, I liked mango-flavoured things, but the mangoes you could buy at the supermarket were super disappointing. They’re stringy. A bit crunchy. Average.
But this boring-looking beige mango was like nectar from the gods. Smooth as butter, juicy and sweet. It paired perfectly with the texture and flavour of the sticky rice.
Sometimes my best memories involve food, and this is one of them. Mango sticky rice became my favourite snack. I purchased a knife so I could just buy the mangoes from the market and have them daily. When I attended a Thai cooking class on my final day, I learned how to make it myself.
Since I returned to New Zealand, I have found proper mangoes exactly once – at the Avondale Market not long after getting back. If memory serves, I paid $15 for two of them.
You see, the reason we have terrible mangoes comes down to the fact that the bad ones ship well. The good ones need to be air-freighted and carefully packed to prevent damage. Especially these yellow ones – any bruising shows up quickly.
So finding a good mango in New Zealand is not impossible, but it is expensive.
I considered keeping the seeds but at the time I didn’t have a house, let alone a property suitable for a mango tree. I figured I knew where to get them.
5 years later…
I never did make it back to Avondale Market. My aunt looked for me once but said it wasn’t the right season. I can’t say it’s been a high priority or that I’ve been looking very hard, but I didn’t even think twice when I spotted some beige Vietnamese mangoes for sale at the local fruit and vege store for $12.99 each this week.
I’d just been to get my teeth cleaned. I justified this as my treat for being a good grown-up. It’s not just the ridiculous price I feel a little guilty about, the carbon footprint on that thing is probably also not great.
I went and worked on the planting project we’re installing this winter while it waited on the kitchen counter. At least I can do some work to offset that.
But curiosity got the better of me when I came back inside. I cut it open to see if it was as good as I remembered.
Sure enough – juicy, smooth, heavenly. Not quite as sweet as I remember in the streets and markets of Thailand. Perhaps a little ‘earthier’, but I also think it’s a slightly different variety.
Not to worry. Still delicious, and a significant upgrade on the stringy $4 ones.
Go go mango
As excited as I was to eat the mango, this time I am most excited about the mango seed. I have a property that has a chance at being suitable for growing mangoes. I can’t spend $13 on a piece of fruit and not attempt to grow it.
The first hurdle was to extract the seed. I watched a few YouTube videos and that was enough guidance. A big giant bean-like thing was exposed. I packed it in some moist paper towels inside a ziplock bag and put it on a shelf where it should stay pretty warm.
Hopefully, the seed will germinate. And hopefully, I can keep the seedling alive. If I’m lucky and pick the right spot, it’ll grow into a large tree and maybe even give us fruit. Nothing is guaranteed here.
If I’m really, really lucky, those fruit might be something like the parent. It’s quite a gamble. The reality is it’s more likely to fail than succeed – but I also can’t not try.
But honestly, there is nothing on this earth like a good mango. And if nothing else, I got to eat a good mango this week.
PS – after I posted about my mango on Twitter, I got directed to the mango episode of Gastropod, which does a brilliant job explaining how different a $13 mango is from a $4 one – as well as why. Highly recommend a listen if you’re curious.