The raw agent

May 10, 2015

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The Sindhri mango kairi. / Photos by Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
The Sindhri mango kairi. / Photos by Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

If you see urchins gathered around a tree with sticks and hooks to pull down its branches or aiming stones at it and if this is around April or May, chances are that the tree is a mango tree and they are stealing unripe or raw mangoes, or kairi, as they are called.

If the mango is known as the ‘King of fruits’, the unripe mango should be named ‘Prince of fruits’. The tangy, bittersweet flavour of these baby mangoes simply makes them irresistible. In fact, in some South-East Asian countries they are preferred to the ripe mangoes. The ripe mango is sweet due to which it is enjoyed as a dessert or used in making desserts or milkshakes, but you can use unripe mangoes to prepare salads, pickles, chutney, jam and even refreshing raw mango squash or sherbet.

“The mangoes are sold at fruit shops but the kairi is available with us,” says Arsalan Quraishi, a vegetable seller. Among his basket of dark green unripe mangoes there is one cut into half also on display. “I cut open one kairi to show that it is white from inside, meaning it is still raw. If it turns out yellow from inside, it has turned into a mango and lost its bittersweet taste.”

Who can resist unripe mangoes?  / Photos by Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
Who can resist unripe mangoes? / Photos by Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

“The kairi season will last alongside the ripe mango season, like until August,” says Tahir Ismail, another vegetable seller.

Asked where he gets so many unripe mangoes from, the seller says that he gets them from the Sabzimandi, the wholesale fruit and vegetable market off the Superhighway, where they are delivered from the mango farms. “These are not unripe Sindhris or Langras or anything like that. The known varieties are turned into ripe mangoes. The kairi is mostly desi mango, which hasn’t been grafted with a known variety before growing into a tree,” he says.

Mango pickle.
Mango pickle.

But at Empress Market, this other vegetable seller is selling big unripe mangoes that he says are raw Sindhri mangoes. Why weren’t they allowed to ripen? “They fell off the trees due to various reasons, including strong winds. Couldn’t let them rot on the ground,” smiles and says Abdullah, who sells them at Rs50 a kilogramme, same price as the other unripe mangoes.

Of course, when turned into pickles, the cost of unripe mangoes shoots up to triple or more. Nisar says he buys as many unripe mangoes as he can store during the mango season so that he can use them in his pickles. “I treat them in salt and vinegar before freezing them. But mango pickles are so popular no matter how many I store I run out in six to seven months,” he says.

For preparing pickle, chutney or sherbet.
For preparing pickle, chutney or sherbet.

Mango chutney is almost as popular as mango pickles but what many may not know is that you can also make sherbet with unripe mangoes. Just cut, make a smooth puree by cooking in water and mix in sugar and cool water before garnishing with mint and serving with ice. Refreshing!

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2015

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