Waiting for the vadu maanga

There are people who wait all year for summer. And when the sweltering months arrive, they go all out to celebrate — over curd rice and vadu maanga. These emerald-green baby mangoes arrive at the first hint of summer, harbingers for the bright, ripe and juicy alphonso, malgova and imampasanth. Walk though the city’s vegetable markets in Mylapore, Mandaveli or Madhavaram and you will see piled heaps of these mangoes. Here’s a beginner’s guide to vadu maanga-dom.

The fallen

Each baby mango is carefully handpicked at groves in rural South India. This variety is called ‘kaambu vadu’, meaning ‘baby mango with stem’. A kilo of vadu maanga harvested this way costs anywhere between Rs. 120 to 200. But the other kind — the unlucky ones that fall off the branches due to the wind, are called ‘porukku vadu’, which roughly translates to ‘picked baby mango’. Mango-seller S. Mahesh says that these tend to be softer due to the fall. “As a result, their lifespan is shorter,” he explains. The fallen mangoes cost almost half as that of the ones with their stems intact.

City love

Every type of vadu maanga has an identity and a fan-base of its own. Some swear by the Palakkad vadu, and some others do not spare a thought for anything else but the Thirumoorthy Hills vadu. It’s fascinating how taste varies widely with geography. The baby mangoes from Palakkad bear a fragrance so sweet that’s not matched by their taste, according to vendor M. Susheela. Her husband Murugan has contacts in Madurai who send him consignments from picturesque Azhagar Kovil. “These are the superior kind,” says Murugan.

But Mahesh feels that people from Madurai and its surrounding regions come in search of the fruit harvested near their city because to them, the mangoes taste of home. “It’s the love for their land that draws them,” he says. “Those who are from Coimbatore, for instance, prefer the Thirumoorthy variety.”

The vendor’s story

Vegetable sellers usually turn vadu maanga sellers during the summer. K. Amirtha, who has a roadside stall in Mylapore, sells vegetables and greens the rest of the year. “The tradition of selling vadu maanga has been in my family even before the days of my grandmother,” she says.

In the past, these mangoes were mostly sold by hawkers who balanced the lot in a cane basket on their heads.

They walked from one house to another — most of them regular customers, and measured the mangoes in an aluminium padi, a measuring cup. For a lot of people in South India, the arrival of the vadu maanga seller heralded a season of sunshine and good food.

The vendors, however, do not make the pickles themselves. “Who has the time for this?” asks Amirtha. But she adds that some customers bring pickled vadu maanga for her to taste.

Method and storage

Vadu maanga is traditionally stored in heavy ceramic jars. Households that regularly make these pickles, take out the old jars from their dusty corners and wash them to welcome the year’s lot. Usually made in bulk, the vadu maanga pickle has very little oil. It consists of rock salt, asafoetida, chilly and turmeric powder — the baby mangoes are washed, wiped dry and are soaked in the spices until they imbibe all the flavours.

Choice of cut

Jostling for space beside the heaps of baby mangoes are the avakkai mangoes. Vendors will be more than willing to chop them into small squares for Rs. 20 a kilo. “This makes it easy for customers,” says Mahesh as he slices the mangoes on a wooden cutter. “Since they buy by the kilo, it takes a lot of work to clean and cut the mangoes,” he adds. The avakkai mangoes signal the end of the vadu maanga season.

It’s sort of like the sunrise — the dark greens gradually give way to yellow which deepens into a delicious orange. This phenomenon is set to take place over the next few weeks. But by the time the mangoes arrive, the vadu maanga will be pickled in all its juiciest glory.

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2021 7:11:55 AM |

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