i have just ended my lunch with what should be generally accepted as among nature’s greatest gifts: a mango – mangga in visayan. this one was as perfect as they come: that vibrant yellow skin, a few black spots here and there, a little discoloration on one bit and a bit of a dent – not a bruise, but a dent – on another bit. Slicing it down its middle, the faint aroma wafts up to the nostrils…yes – this is a good one! the flesh is nearly the same color as the skin, but slightly more orange. in fact, trying to ascertain precisely what color it was, i could only think of the crayola crayon in our huge boxes as children, in the days before they had come up with more inventive names…this color was appropriately endowed with the honest, if nothing else, name: orange-yellow. but the color isn’t constant – no, the center is far more orange, and it sort of fades out into a yellow more like that of the skin toward the exterior of the half…and the flavor…
there is something so incredibly special about mangoes eaten in the country in which they are grown…perhaps like any vegetable; i can only compare the less-than-perfect mangoes of england and the u.s. with the horrendous apples chris insisted on buying the other week so we could have a “change”…i’m ashamed to admit, ladies and gents, that those apples flown in from who-knows-where lasted about ten days in the basket, uneaten, before i finally dumped them in the compost. our most sincere apologies, mother nature.
i remember the first time i tasted mangoes here…janice’s family owns a restaurant called toto’s lechon manok (that link is to the los angeles branches – i sincerely recommend popping by if ever you get the chance…you’ll find yourself wondering why pinoys aren’t all morbidly obese with food that tasty!), and her house, where i stayed when i came the first time, had a little lechon, or rotisserie stall just outside. they also sold fruits, and many mornings, ja would go outside and grab 3 or 4…who’m i kidding? more like 5 or 6 mangoes, and we would indulge ourselves in their smooth, buttery texture, more-sweet-than-sour flavor, vibrant, beautiful color…i’d never eaten anything so perfect in all my life! so unique is the taste of what is here called ‘sweet mangoes,’ and what ja always called ‘davao mangoes’ (after the biggest city in mindanao, from whence these mangoes herald), that when chris and i brought home our first mangoes from the local wet market here, cogon, and sat down to eat the first one…when i scooped my spoon into the half i had picked up off the plate, cupped so perfectly in the palm of my hand as though meant specifically to be held by humans…when i placed that bite in my mouth…i can’t begin to tell you how intense was the wave of nostalgia that overcame me!
a sad side note is that mangoes, though grown here en masse for eons, aren’t cheap…if i had more time, i’d look into it a bit more deeply, but an educated guess is that the demand for export is great enough, and people abroad are willing to pay enough, that a reasonable price for the locals is just not thinkable. To give you an idea, it’s not unusual for someone working in a domestic role to earn P100/day…if you work for a bigger company that’s bound to the minimum wage laws, depending on the role, the minimum wage is P150-220. a kilo of mangoes, however – which is roughly 4-5 of them – is P70. now, granted – they’re not in ‘season’ at the moment…but they will dip down to P50 at their cheapest – still half of many people’s daily salary. i guess that wouldn’t be so bad if we were talking about apples or lettuce – something difficult or impossible to grow here – but mangoes?
i am sure that jamaicans and indians and mexicans and puerto ricans all feel as sincerely that the mangoes in their countries are the sweetest, juiciest, most aromatic…perhaps one day i’ll have traveled to some of those countries and i can begin to compare…for now, i’m satisfied thinking that these just might be the most perfect mangoes on the planet…i’m sure any pinoy would agree.