By Indranil Halder
I was at BKK Bangkok Social Club for a drink with ONYX Hospitality Group’s Area General Manager and General Manager of the Amari Watergate Bangkok. After glass of lychee martini and plate full of Thai mangoes for breakfast, I couldn’t stop thinking about my very first, burnt aam or mango martini served at Sonar Tori Restaurant, Salt Lake, West Bengal, India. It signalled the start of my 2023 summer trip in the Indian city of Kolkata.
Mango Culture In Kolkata:
Sitting in a leather lounge in my FabIndia white linen outfit, it felt like a certain Buenos Aires bar after a polo match. But my mind quickly arrived a lunch spent at Babu Culture Restaurant, Kolkata. Several week ago, I meet Deep,a Bengali Sydneysider who was in town to scout around for his sister’s wedding venue. I opted for mango infused lunch Thali named ‘Aam Thali’ for a much needed energy to survive the extensive Kolkata wedding venue package updates. The ‘Aam Thali’ included traditional Bengali mango dishes such as Aamer rosa die Kucho Chingrir Bora, Aam aada diye Moog Dal, Aamsotto Polao, Am Echorer Khatta Mitha, Pabda Macher Aam Kasundi, Kancha Aam diye Pora Lanka Mangsho, Macher Dimer Aam Chatni, Paka Aam, Malpoyar sathe Aamer Rabri( sweet dish) served with Basmati rice and Aam Lassi drink. Was only available on my second visit.
It was not long ago, I also visited a Spenser supermarket store. It lead to my in-house mango mania. Our fridge was stocked with Maaza Mango Juice , Alphonso Mangoes, London Dairy Mango Sorbet , Ganesh Mango Panna , Kwality Alphonso Mango Ice Cream and Smoor Mango Chocolate. Even then, I felt, my wife does better job to stock our Sydney refrigerator for summer with mangoes. To top it all, I continue to have mango salads, rice bubbles with samosa and mango sandesh (from Buncharaam Sweets) on a regular basis. And numerous Kolkata cafes became my source to try various mango dishes. Each and every cafe celebrated summer mango season with posters, specialised menus and mangolicious dishes.
As if the mango season menus were in direct competition with Rugby World Cup 2023 packages.One afternoon, after a monsoon rain, I visited Loafer’s Cafe to meet Akash who was rigorously preparing for a Rugby Union match against CCFC (Calcutta Cricket and Football Club)to win the match. We were delighted to try the delicious mango smoothie instead of mango cheesecake milkshake to stay rugby healthy. Next time I was in the same cafe with Preetom, I tried the mango tart with a sweet basil hint and boneless mango wings with fresh mango and burnt chili salsa. The cafe also pride itself with an incredible mango menu to try mango- misu, chicken mango pizza with fresh mango salsa, charred red and green chilies and I am waiting to try aam aur kala chana Chaat with golgappa, mango avocado sourdough toast and raw mango salad with toasted coconut. If that is not enough to appreciate mango dishes in Kolkata , a dinner with my cousin Dr Halder at a restaurant named ChowMin in Ballygunge, let me experience Chinese style Indian summer desert with mango.
With progress of night, Bangkok Social Club became the ideal location to mingle, the bar looked like a movie set of the Crazy Rich Asian with all its glamour. I could only think of my tempting Facebook photo of Chinese mango dish at ChowMin. It even turned Sydney based global talent recruiter Amitava, a poet, helped by AI engineered ChatGP. His poem went:
‘In Kolkata’s streets, flavors collide,
Bengali spices, Chinese pride.
Mango’s sweetness, a cultural ride.’
Certainly, it didn’t turn out to be a typically romantic mango summer where stories of broken relationship are as plenty as varieties of mangoes. Just as Dr Halder, a romantic at heart with strong hands for orthopaedics, spends most of his day either attending ON calls or OT (Operating Theatres) is still looking for romance in spare time.
Once on our way back from our ancestral home in Lakshmikantapur, 24 Parganas, Dr Halder received a call from his ex-girl friend who recently got engaged. She called to ensure that he had seen her Facebook engagement updates. Her action was perfectly timed for a desert with dry rose petals, avocado icecream and mango sorbet to heal a broken heart. We arrived at Burma Burma. Suddenly, the dysfunctional love life of a Kolkata orthopaedic became interesting to let the mango sorbet slowly melt away.
The incredible taste of the mango sorbet ripped through my tongue as much as the phone call did for Dr Sarba’s heart. It was clear that a Facebook photo of Dr Halder was the rotten mango. A photo of him partying with his current girl friend in Park Street was the source for her tiff. It was just like the Ballygunge mangowala across the road, who was busy selling his mangoes for Rs60 per kg until sudden competitor started selling the same mangoes for Rs 28 per kg, creating an urban mango tiff. Love life of Dr Halder seems as characters from Sarat Chandra Chattopadhy. Those characters also enjoy a fabulous Bengali lifestyle. For me, enjoying an unique mango drink named Ingraj Bazar ( part of special summer drink collection- In Search Of Bengal) with my uncle and dad at Olterra(a all day dinning house), made me live that fabulous Bengali style. To top it all, a drink prepared from droolworthy Malda mango was a great surprise.
Droolworthy Malda Mango:
Decades ago, I was lucky to have lived in Murshidabad and lucky to enjoy over hundred varieties of mangoes from both . It Malda and Murshidabad districts with numerous mango orchards. It was also the location for ruined historic cities of Gaur and Pandua which were once part of Hindu, Mughal and Afghan kingdoms and spread of mango culture. For a 4000 year old fruit, connected to the rich history of the subcontinent, Anita Bose( author of Ramayana, Footprints In South-East Asian Culture and Heritage) pointed out in a 300 year old wall painting at the National Museum of Bangkok, Thailand that Lord Buddha is said to be born under a mango tree.
It is hard to believe that the same fruit is now part of trendy Kolkata lifestyle, inspiring modern mixologist at Olterra to create an amazing new cocktail. Made of traditional burnt mango pulp or ‘aam pora’ paired with drink that had ‘the caramel notes of blue agave tequila and homemade spice dust.’ It helped me to celebrate my mango connection to Malda, curious about thought provoking history of the fruit in the Indian subcontinent and reflect on its journey in modern Kolkata. My mango connection became more enjoyable with a lunch invitation from Sheherwali family- the Dugar. They offered the famous Kohitoor mango from Murshidabad (created for the then Nawab of Bengal). Then celebrity chef Shaun Kenworthy’s desert – ‘ A trifle Bengal’ version 2.0 with fresh mango, angoori rasmalai, rusk, mishti doi mousse, fennel seed honeycomb and a splash of limoncello was tempting. But nothing could drool me more that a traditional mango dhoi (yogurt) from Kolkata’s heritage sweet maker Balaram Mullick and Radharaman Mullick. A gift from Rebanta to enjoy my summer. This mango dhoi also made my trip to Garihat Flurys outlet worthless, for a slice of mango cake and mango macrons.
As I continued to live and love Kolkata’s mangolicious summer, I heard mango is making sellers happy, orchards owners jubilant and lovers of mango enthusiastic. It seemed to me that mango is not just a fruit but also was playing a significant role in India’s recession proof happy economy. If people are happy, may be, mango might be that magical fruit which may help India to attend third position in the growth chart of global economy or even produce cheap shoes from millions of used mango pulp to develop leather with socioeconomic benefits. No matter what, my mango season celebration thrilled many including MG Gopalan, whose Facebook comment say, “ My Bong bandhus have the unique ability to take a fruit and turn it into a lifestyle for endless mango summer. “
It was definitely time to cherish, reflect and preserve the endless mango summer memories of 2023 at the Bangkok Social Club to improve my mental health.
Note: Mango is also refereed as ‘aam’ in Bengali and other Indian languages.