A mango is not just a mango, coined 'king of all fruits' (Purseglove, JW, 1968).

At a recent Macau Patua event, the mango fruit (Chaunsa from Pakistan) was served as part of a dessert, and naturally mango became a topic of discussion. Globally mangoes are immensely popular, eaten both as a fruit and widely used in cuisine. Dedicated mango festivals abound in mango growing countries. Worldwide many hundreds of named mango cultivars exist; most people have a favourite variety and mine is the Alphonso (India), named in honour after Alfonso de Albuquerque (1453-1515) a Portugese fidalgo, eminent naval and military strategist and administrator, conquered and established the Portugese colonial empire in the Indian Ocean . This mango variety is not easy to find in London and have a very short season so when they become available they are like gold nuggets. Why do I favour the Alphonso; the ripening fruit are wonderfully perfumed, the flavour intensely sweet, rich, and full, with multiple aromatic overtones. Fibreless in the melting orange flesh. Tasting notes, invariably: Intense aromatic characteristics of apricot, mint and papaya, with a flavourful, creamy flesh tasting of vanilla and spice. 

The best varieties are almost fibreless, melting in texture, and have rich, luscious, semi-spicy flavours. Fibre content plays an important role in ripe mangoes. Most Indian and southeast Asian varieties have very little fibre compared to the Caribbean, Latin, and Florida state (southeast US) varieties. Little or no fibre makes the fruit more custard-like in texture. Because of their texture, slightly more fibrous mangoes usually have more bite and mouth appeal.

One of our guests that evening Mark U, favoured the Bowen (aka Kensington Pride), which is the most popular variety from his native Australia. I have never heard of Bowen and so thank you Mark U; it is now on my pick list. Also I would like to share with Naomi F, another guest, that there is a new mango cultivar in Israel carrying namesake Naomi.

There is early documentation of the mango and other fruits, and of grafting in the horticultural science of ancient India, and the earliest evidence of agricullture (by Professor Jules Janick) is found in northern China from 5000 to 7000 BCE. Well-known varieties of mango were named after Mohammedans, who were connoisseurs of the mango. In south Asian myth and literature, the mango remains king of fruits. And who could fail to be amused by the pastoral comedies of the great writer William Shakespeare - the wordplay and wit - and in this context, As You Like It, within the famous quote "I'll graff it with you, and then I shall graff it with a medlar: then it will be the earliest fruit i' th' country: for you'll be rotten ere you be half ripe, and that's the right virtue of the medlar."

Thinking of Florida, am reminded of the Mango Gang originating from Miami from the mid 1980s. Who are the Mango Gang; they are Norman Van AkenAllen SusserMark Militello, and Douglas Rodriquez. Four chefs who, over 20 years ago, put the tropical-accented cuisine of Miami and south Florida on the national culinary map. The Mango Gang are widely acknowledged as the pioneers of New World Cuisine (aka Floribbean cuisine, rightly or wrongly), an innovative blending of American, Caribbean, and Latin flavours. So anyone planning a visit to Florida be sure to check out the respective chefs - they are still cooking! And do not miss Richard Campbell, horticulturist and international mango expert, at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Last, but not least, the Kennedy Space Centre is unmissable; (am fascinated by space exploration and NASA, and the Chinese space program - CNSA).

Forward onto China, I recall the story of Chairman Mao Zedong - Mao's travelling mangoes: Food as relic in revolutionary China, authored by Adam Yuet Chau. Most people are familiar with the history and events of the Cultural Revolution in China from 1966 to 1976, but few know of the year long political 'mango fever' that swept the populace in August, 1968 after the Pakistani foreign minister, in Beijing on a diplomatic trip, gave a crate of mangoes to Chairman Mao. At an opportune time, Mao regifted the mangoes to the Capital Worker and Peasant Mao Zedong Thought Propaganda Teams then in the late stages of suppressing the excesses of the student Red Guards at Tsinghua University in what was to prove one of the terminal acts of the Cultural Revolution. Political mango fever hit China in 1968 as images of the fruit entered popular culture. Illustrations and photos of mangoes appeared in publications, paintings, posters, and badges, as well as on everyday objects such as mirrors, quilts, and enamelware. Wax mango models were displayed in glass boxes, printed in red with Mao's quotations, to express respect and esteem for him. The mango imagery appeared for about a year. After 1969, the mango disappeared from the active symbolic repertoire of Chinese politics. 

Mao's Golden Mangoes and the Cultural Revolution, edited by Alfreda Murck, is the catalogue for the self titled exhibition at the Museum Rietberg in Zurich; it reveals the bizarre story of how the mango became a potent and unexpected propaganda symbol, providing both a political message and an object of emotional identification in the late 1960s in China.

Being a cinema aficianado, I was soon alerted of The Fruit Hunters by documentary filmmaker Yung Chang, and actor Bill Pullman (whose film work I like especially his role in Lost Highway by pre-eminent filmmaker David Lynch) put in appearances in The Fruit Hunters; quietly in spare time he works his bountiful orchard in LA, dabbles in horticulture and really likes mangoes.

There is always an abundance of mangoes in my kitchen; off now to whip up a mango lassi (courtesy of Felicity Cloake).


Is Macanese cuisine a Creole cooking, as in hybrid. The question was asked of me by food anthropologist Annabel Jackson leading on to her recent article 
Real Creole for Business Traveller Asia magazine. My mind went off at a tangent: Creole - what is it, and what is the origin of the word and term. The exact sense varies with local use. Originally with no connotation of colour or race. In Fowler's (1858-1933) definitive Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926) he writes: "Creole does not imply mixture of race, but denotes a person either of European or (now rarely) of negro descent born and naturalized in certain West Indian and American countries." I am Hong Kong Chinese, my understanding of creole relates to language and peoples. Macau Creole (known as Patua to its speakers) is a creole language derived mainly from Malay, Sinhalese, Cantonese, and Portuguese, which was originally spoken by the Macanese community of the Portuguese of Macau. In linguistics, the term creole means a language arisen through contact between two or more languages. Dr Mark Sebba, Linguistics' specialist, asserts that  'what is important in defining a creole is that a new language is created which did not previously exist'.

Rampart Mississippi Fried Chicken September 2008More often than not, though, the term creole is associated in a culinary context and applied to the cooking of the Mississippi Delta, in particular the US state of Louisiana (Louisiana Creole cuisine) and its largest city of New Orleans. Inadvertently, I was first introduced to the culture and food of New Orleans many years ago by the international writer Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) whose numerous works on Japanese folklore and Kaidan stories I collected. Hearn lived a decade in New Orleans (1877-1888) before moving onto Martinique and finally to Japan. Inventing New Orleans: Writings of Lafcadio Hearn (edited by the learned Professor S. Frederick Starr), is an illuminating selection of Hearn's 'impressions'  of facets of life in New Orleans and Louisiana. Hearn was a prolific writer and journalist. From Professor Valerie Loichot's scholarly paper Cooking Creoleness we learn that Hearn was a forerunner of both  creoleness (creolite) and creolization. 'Hearn often lived on the edge of hunger' marking the beginning of his obsession with food. Surely Hearn's twin career as a gourmand began in New Orleans. Hearn published the first Creole cookbook La Cuisine Creole (1885) - now a Pelican facsimile edition as Lafcadio Hearn's Creole Cook Book. He even spotted a business opportunity and opened The Five Cent Restaurant - 'the cheapest eating-house in the South' - which unfortunately was short lived as his business partner absconded. Hearn's brief culinary enterprise ceased.  In modern-day parlance Hearn could also be known as an entrepreneur. (New Orleans based writer Michael Allen Zell at NOLA Defender writes a zippy essay Stray Leaves about idiosyncratic author Hearn). Lafcadio Hearn's literary output of yesteryear Louisiana has virtually invented the idea and symbol of New Orleans as one of the iconic cities of America.

I have longed to visit Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee being a fan of Country music and the Memphis soul, and of Elvis Presley. Check out Elvis in the film King Creole. And New Orleans, birthplace of African-American music and the culinary heritage of American Southern food. David Simon and Eric Overmyer (writer/producers of exceptional HBO miniseries), co-created Treme HBO a socio-drama about the resilience and recovery of post-Katrina New Orleans. Treme is part of the Seventh Ward, which is historically the neighbourhood of free people of color and is sort of what is Creole: which is a contentious term. Simon paid a "homage to one of America's greatest achievements, African-American music... blues and jazz, New Orleans is the cradle of all that." Indeed Treme's script contains serial music peppered dialogues. Is President Obama a Creole: it depends on the nation of reference. Barack Obama is the first African-American to hold the office as President of the United  States. On 27th August, 2015, commemorating the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Mr Obama visited and delivered a speech in New Orleans: as reported by the New York Times, the racial divides are intertwined. Valerie Loichot's essay Creolizing Barack Obama illustrates the discrepancies between racial perceptions in continental France and Martinique. Most French journalists describe Obama as a 'metis', a form of praise of racial and cultural mixing. In Martinique, he is referred to as 'creole'.  On a culinary note, before he was President elect , State Senator Barack Obama was an amateur food critic. Mr Obama appeared in a video segment for the television broadcasting station WTTW in Chicago aired in August 2001, reviewing a certain restaurant and promoting Southern food.

Yesterday an impulse to pull out and listen to a few jazz cds was triggered by an insightful essay Blue Horizon: Creole culture and Early New Orleans Jazz by Professor of musicology David Ake. Then a few music books jumped out of my bookshelves. Am now re-reading Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans (Da Capo Press), the great Louis Armstrong's exuberant autobiography depicting his early years in turn of the 20th century New Orleans. Reads just like having a conversation with Satchmo himself; a pleasure to read. 

 

 

London