Food Stories: Mango sharbat

Published July 14, 2015
Mango sharbat. —Photo by Fawad Ahmed
Mango sharbat. —Photo by Fawad Ahmed

Our annual love affair with mango is fervent, albeit short. Mirza Ghalib best understood our relationship with the mango, and William Dalrymple in his book The Last Mughal quoted the following, defining it aptly;

For Ghalib, the late evening was also the time for indulging in mango-related pleasures, especially the exquisitely small, sweet chausa mango, a taste he shared with many other discerning Delhiwallahs, past and present. At one gathering, a group of Dehliwallahs were discussing what qualities a good mango should have: 'In my view,' said Ghalib, 'there are only two essential points about mangoes – they should be sweet and they should be plentiful.'

Mango, the reigning emperor of fruits, was first eaten some four thousand years ago. Ain-Akbari, the life chronicles of Akbar the great, wonderfully states the taste of that perfect mango as;

The Persians call this fruit Naghzak, as it appears from a verse of Khusrau. This fruit is unrivalled in colour, smell, and taste; and some of the gourmands of Turan and Iran place it above muskmelons and grapes. There are green, yellow, red, variegated, sweet, and sub acid mangoes. The flower opens in spring, resembles that of the vine, has a good smell and looks very curious.

About a month after the leaves have made their appearance, the fruit is sour, and is used for preserves and pickle. The fruit is generally taken down when unripe and kept in a particular manner. Mangoes ripened in this manner are much finer. They are fit to be eaten during the rains. Some trees bloom and yield fruit the whole year; but this is rare.

Mangoes are to be found everywhere in India, especially in Bengal, Gujrat, Malwah, Khandesh, and the Dekhan. They are rarer in Punjab, where their cultivation has, however, increased since his Majesty made Lahore his capital. A young tree will bear fruit after four years. They put also milk and treacle round about the trees, which makes the fruits sweeter.

The Chinese traveller Hsuan-tsang is thought to be the first who traveled outside of ancient India with the mango; and brought it to the notice of the ancient world a millennium and a half ago.

A fruit resembling the mango was unearthed at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro during excavation, and the mango tree and fruits are referred to in the travelogues of travellers like Ibn Batuta and Ibn Hankal.

The Mughal emperors yearned for the fruit they had left behind in central Asia, and foreigners were astounded to observe the large proportion of wealth the emperors were spending on fruit; the entire court was well versed in the political language of fruit.

Akbar the great ordered the planting of 1 lakh mango trees in Darbhanga, eastern India. It is said that Shah Jahan loved the Indian mango dearly too, and Jahangir famously said, ‘notwithstanding the sweetness of the Kabul fruits, not one of them has, to my taste, the flavour of the mango.’

Shah Jahan’s passion for the fruit was so intense and it is believed that he once accused his son of eating mangoes from the emperor’s favourite tree in Deccan, hence wiping out the entire tree harvest for that season.

Mango sharbat.
Mango sharbat.

Pakistan, Bangladesh and India grow the most succulent, delicious and delightfully sweet mangoes, and I can rightly claim that no other region in the world harvests a better mango fruit than the subcontinent.

Yes, other regions grow pretty looking mangoes, but none come close in taste to the desi aam (mango from the subcontinent). Sometimes, a great motivation for the trip back home in July is to get a taste of the langra, sindhre, anwar ratol, chaunsa, desheri, himsager, sammar bahist; namely just a few of the aams available in Pakistan.

Today, I share with you three mango recipes from the days of the Mughals. I came upon these recipes in the book Curry by Lizzie Collingham and tried them out for iftaar. The mango lassi, I modified adding 1 cup of milk, but the base recipe is from Curry. Here is it from my kitchen to yours.

Mango Sharbat

This modification of a Mughlai recipe serves 3-4.

For a long time the Moghul emperors mourned their lost homeland in central Asia and pined for the melons of the area. But, by the time the fourth emperor, Jahangir, came to the throne he had switched his allegiance and thought Indian mangoes sweeter and better than any other central Asian fruit.

Roasted mango.
Roasted mango.

Ingredients:

2 raw green mangoes
6 tbsp. of sugar
1 tbsp. of salt
½ tsp. freshly roasted and grounded, cumin seeds
Sprig of fresh mint
1 cup cold water

Procedure:

Roast the mangoes in a 400 degree F. (pre-heated) oven until they are soft.

Allow them to cool, make a hole in the skin and squeeze out the pulp.

Put the pulp in a blender and process with sugar, cumin, salt, and mint. Add cold water and pour into chilled glasses.

Mango sharbat.
Mango sharbat.
Mango Buttermilk Lassi

Originally, Punjabis made their lassi with buttermilk, (a by-product of manufacturing ghee).

Mango lassi.
Mango lassi.

Ingredients:

1 cup mango puree (or pulp of 2 ripe mangoes)
1 ¾ cups buttermilk (I used yogurt instead)
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp. lemon juice (optional)
½ tsp. salt (optional)
1 tbsp. honey
3 tbsp. sugar (optional)
Pinch of nutmeg
10 crushed ice cubes

Procedure:

Put the ingredients in a blender and blend until the contents become foamy. Serves 3-4

Mango Popsicles

Ingredients:

6 cups slightly thawed frozen mango
1/4 cup light coconut milk
2 tbsp. orange juice
2 tbsp. honey
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Mango popsicles.
Mango popsicles.

Procedure:

Put in a blender, pour in popsicle mold and freeze.

—Photos by Fawad Ahmed

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