For many, mangoes symbolise high summer. For many others, mango pickles do. Mid-April, when residents feel the heat even with air-conditioners set to 18 degrees Celsius, is exactly when the pickling season begins. The city’s main vegetable markets have begun to cater to a gargantuan demand for vadu maangas (baby mangoes), which go into the making of one of the best-loved pickles. It’s not just the ‘babies’’, but also full-grown mangoes are suitable for pickling. Until June, varieties such as neelam, rasal and avakai will be sought for the indispensable tangy flavour they lend to pickles.

Here’s a round of neighbourhoods where residents traditionally queue up before vegetable markets for pickle mangoes.

Koyambedu wholesale market: The hub of mango trade in the city is expecting fresh stock of mangoes in the coming weeks, especially the pulpy varieties.

It currently receives 100 tonnes of mangoes a day, which includes large quantities of mangoes suitable for pickling. The arrivals would increase to 200 tonnes as the season progresses. “But, it is nowhere close to the supply the market witnessed five years ago,” says S.Srinivasan, president, Chennai Fruits Commission Agents.

Mambalam: It is noon and the Mambalam market is getting ready for a niche set of customers. In a short while, ‘mango pickers’ will descend on the bazaar. A sack of raw mangoes arrives at shop no 28, where mangoes are aesthetically decked up in mountain-like heaps on flat vessels.

Thadi Mangai Kadai, run by Selvaraj, is around for decades. Rasal is the hot-selling variety at this shop, followed by avakai and Madurai mavadu. “The mango rush starts next week when more varieties are expected to come in,” says Selvaraj, pointing to a board displaying a phone number for the benefit of regulars to call in and check about fresh arrivals. Buyers flock to shop No. 3 for neelam. A pedestal fan is installed at the shop for customers waiting for the mangoes to be chopped and packed. “We cut two dozen mangoes in 15 minutes,” says a staffer. To get the best of the mangoes and to shop in a bustle-free environment, head to these shops before noon.

M. Padma Priya, a resident of Tiruvanmiyur and a regular visitor to the market, suggests that one choose the mangoes carefully. “For a good pickle, the mango must have matured. So if you are buying in large quantities, have a mango cut by the vendor to ensure that the shell is hard,” she says. Other regulars say the market is easier on the purse than those in Mylapore.

Mint Street: Anyone looking to prepare pickles that will appeal to North Indian palates should head to Sowcarpet, especially the perennially busy Mint Street. This locality will lose the numbers game to most others. For instance, Mylapore and T.Nagar have more vendors trading in pickle-mangoes and more varieties too. During a mid-April visit to Mint, Rajapuri mangoes were ubiquitous. No other variety could be found. “To prepare meetha achar (sweet pickle) and aam ka papad (mango papads), we get Rajapuri and other varieties that are much cheaper than others,” says Santosh Banliya, out shopping for raw mangoes with her daughter-in-law Anju to take to Rajasthan. Another variety to look for in Sowcarpet is keri, much preferred by Rajasthanis and found during this season.

Mylapore: When it comes to mango pickles, it is assumed that Mylapore is ahead of neighbourhoods by a long way. While the locality still has many families that make pickles at home, enthusiasm for the activity has considerably come down. The frown on T. Murugan’s face says it all.

This mango seller on South Mada street sits sulking, surrounded by mounds of unsold vada maangas. This season, he has been given the cold shoulder by his regular customers. He found out they were staying off pickles as advised by their doctors. “They even rebuff my offers of huge discounts,” says Murugan. “Customers who would buy 40 bags of pickle mangoes, have now reduced their purchases to 13 bags,” says Murugan, who is keeping his fingers crossed that fresh medical research will place mango pickles in a different light.

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