If you have ever spent any time with people from South Asia, you'll find that mangoes are talked about a lot. Especially between April and August each year.
There's a good reason why so much diaspora writing about South Asia is about mangoes. They're pretty damn good.
To me, the difference between a normal mango and a South Asian mango in season is the difference between table wine and say, Barolo. Or the difference between Velveeta and artisanal cheese. All mangoes (and all cheese, including artificial ones) have their place. But some bring more joy than others.
There are many types of South Asian mangoes, too. A single state or province can have hundreds, even thousands of different types of mangoes. While I can sometimes enjoy a Mexican or Peruvian mango, South Asian mangoes are what make me want to write poetry, what sends me into a frenzy at mango season. However, these mangoes are not easy to get. They don't show up in every grocery store. Not every variety gets exported. Other people text random men, who show up with mangoes or not. People will go to great lengths for these mangoes. Many friends say getting even one mango from home helps them feel less homesick. Be aware that no matter how you choose to procure one, it will be an adventure: getting this fruit from farm to your table abroad is not easy. Even if you can order it online, it won't be as easy as other online shopping processes. Sometimes they call back and say, 'can you wait two more weeks?' That's all normal. I'm just glad I can get them at all.
I am not immune. This year, I am on a 'mango call list' where the owner of a nearby desi store will call me when he knows a shipment is coming in, and I will, quite literally, run over.
What to look out for, and how to try one?
The easiest, and probably most expensive option, is to buy online from Mangozz. If you feel like dropping a grand on mangoes, and some people do, go ahead and subscribe to their full mango season pass.
If you live in a US city with a sizable South Asian population, like San Jose or Fremont or Sunnyvale, go check out your nearby Indian bazaar. In New York, try Patel Bros in Queens or Jumuna in Brooklyn. In Seattle, call Apna Bazaar, which has them periodically. Or buy from Fremont-based mango supplier, AumPi. They can also ship to other parts of the US. Personally, I live in San Francisco, so I use a combination of buying online from AumPi and having New India Bazaar call me when they know they'll get a box.
As for which Indian mangoes to order, it's entirely up to your taste, but here are my favorites:
Alphonso, most widely exported and most widely known Indian mango. It's very good, and I call it the best Indian mango for beginners because everyone loves it. There are some Indian mangoes which are too sour, or more fibrous, and are much more of an acquired taste, whereas the Alphonso is kind of like the Exotic Mango Ideal. Mostly produced on the Konkan Coast of India in the southwest, from Ratnagiri to Goa.
Banganpalli is my favorite. Coming from the Kadapa area of Andhra Pradesh, this mango is less fibrous and the skin is so delicate it can even be eaten. It is also sweet, but less in an overwhelming mango-y way the way an Alphonso is: it has a hint of tartness, almost apple-like.
Chausa comes later in the season (June to mid August) and they grow in Pakistan as well as in northern India. It's one of the sweetest mangoes you will ever eat, and not in a cloying way.
Dussehri or Dasheri, grown in northern India especially around Lucknow, and in Multan in Pakistan, are the perfect dessert mango if you can get them in season. Personally I prefer making ice creams and cakes with Dasheri in season, but Alphonso (more easily available year round, in pretty good cans of pulp).
Imam Pasand, a very large and unusual mango. So large and fiberless it almost feels like biting into a large chunk of cheese at times instead of a fruit. When ripe, can have a liquor-like smell and taste.
Other mangoes to watch out for: langra, totapuri, badami, sindhri, mallika, lal badshah, anwar ratol, neelam.
I'm eagerly awaiting my first box (of Banganpalli). While the costs are high, it's certainly cheaper than getting on a plane and going back to India for the entirety of mango season! Which is how I fell in love with Indian mangoes in the first place: I spent many ten glorious summers in India Indian summers, and I mostly remember the monsoon and the mangoes.
If you've tried any South Asian mangoes this mango season, I'd love to hear from you! If you know where I can get Pakistani mangoes in the Bay Area, I'm also all ears. I just know about them less, but I know they are wonderful.
Here's a helpful video about how to cut mangoes).
P.S. Whenever I write about mangoes, I often get responses like, 'what about mangoes from this country? What about this mango variety that can only be found in my state in India? What about Burmese mangoes which are better than everything here?' Find me a source for buying those mangoes, or send me a box, and then I'll add them to the list next year. I'm especially interested in Jamaican and Haitian mangoes. And I would love to be able to eat a Sein Ta Lone Burmese mango again.