We head down to Ratnagiri to savour the Alphonso!
A ten and a half hour road trip in a Bentley Mulsanne Speed
IHATE SUMMER. I HATE THE fact that everything just becomes smouldering hot — the roads, the insides of cars, my temper, everything. Step out into the sun for a second and you’re going to need your eleventh shower of the day. You wake up every morning in a pool of your own sweat and don’t even make me start on the water shortage. The only good thing about this time of the year is that it heralds the monsoons. And mangoes.
The Mango Ghat
Maharashtra has terrible roads. Well, except for the Mutha ghat heading up to Lavasa, which bikers around Pune and Mumbai swear by. The rest of its roadways are just utterly dismal. Or so I thought. Imagine my surprise when we turned off the Pune-Bangalore highway at Karad (and the road is absolutely pathetic till Karad) on to beautiful inroads through the Maharashtrian countryside. Now the Terrano’s suspension is good, it handles bad roads with great composure and the 205mm ground clearance allows
as regulation over imports of organic products to the west has become a real hassle. So instead, they process the mangoes and tin the pulp. These tins are exported to the USA, Europe and even as far as Russia and Ukraine!
The first thing you notice about the trees at the farm is how short they are. Mango trees can grow to scary sizes in the wild, but the ones on the plantation don’t grow more than twentyfive feet high. That’s because instead of planting the trees in regular soil, they blast holes in rocks, fill them up with soil and plant the trees in them. This way, the roots can’t dig in too deep and the trees remain stumped. This supposedly enhances the yield of the tree and makes sure the mangoes are easy to harvest.
Most of the land on the plantation is used to grow the famous Alphonso mangoes, or Hapus, as the locals call them. Why? Because they are the most profitable, obviously. Alphonso mangoes are supposed to be superior to other mangoes when it comes to flavour and texture and hence sell at a much higher rate and rake in much more profit than other mangoes. And at the end of the day, mangoes are a business for the guys out here.
Fruits and fish
Have you ever had cooked mango? Not in desserts and stuff. I mean properly cooked mangoes in a savory dish. I had never even imagined something like this until I came to Aarti Dining in the heart of Ratnagiri town. Turns out in summer, when the mango season is in full swing, the Malvanis cook up this mango curry that is to die for. They take ripe mangoes, boil them, skin them and dump them in a coconut curry not too different from a goan prawn curry. The spice of the curry mixes with the sweetness (or sourness) of the mango and ends up tasting rather
The Terrano doesn’t mind being chucked around corners hard
interesting. And this is not a dish you can eat in polite company. You’ve got to get in there with your hands, pick up the slippery mango orbs and dig in while the juice trickles down your chin and arms, down to your elbows. That’s the only way you can really savour it.
Then there’s the fish. Ratnagiri is a coastal town and seafood forms an integral part of their cuisine. We managed to get some great fried fish at Ganeshgule beach, some 22km from the main town of Ratnagiri. The pomfret and kingfish were marinated in a turmeric base, covered in semolina and then fried. That, along with some bhakri and sol kadhi, makes for a typical, everyday Malvani meal.
The great thing about Ratnagiri is that if you’re up to it, it is easy to make the return trip in a day and that’s what our plan is. Before we leave mango heaven though, there’s one thing that absolutely has to be done. We load up the Terrano’s 475-litre boot full of mangoes – the relatives will be happy.
As I trundled back to Pune, it began to rain. The beginning of the end of mango season. Oh, well. I guess I’m going to have to wait till next summer for more mangoes but I know one thing for sure. I am an Aam Aadmi.
Right: This mango curry has quite an interesting combination of flavours. Below: Who knew that there is a place named after the mango!
Below: These tins get exported all over the world. Bottom: Plenty of space for mangoes in the Terrano’s boot