I’m 100% Vietnamese. Ok, I’m actually 75% Vietnamese and 25% Chinese, but for all intents and purposes, consider me 100% Vietnamese. This means that I love myself a mango. For as long as I can remember, my mother would buy a flat of mangoes from Chinatown every weekend while they were in season. Unripe, green mangoes were marinated in fish sauce for a savory dish, or pickled in rice wine vinegar with a little Thai chili and eaten as a snack or an accompaniment for sweet and savory beef. Ripe mangoes were diced for dessert and you grabbed the 2nd best utensil in the world after chopsticks from the little plastic toothpick (What? Everyone didn’t have one of those?). In the morning, mangoes went into the blender for smoothies (maybe that’s where I get it from) and my brother and I rejoiced at not being forced to down another soft-boiled egg. Sure, soft-boiled eggs sound great now, but when every other 7 year-old gets Cap’n Crunch and you’re sucking down runny eggs, it gets a little annoying.
You get the point, then – my childhood ran on a mango-powered engine. As we got older and my parents’ income grew a bit, we even splurged on the slightly more expensive Champagne Mangoes. I have distinct memories of watching my mom peel that golden, little nugget of a mango. The taste, in comparison to mangoes past, was like hearing music on CD for the first time after years of cassette tapes (we were cheap so my cassette tapes comprised of mixes recorded off of the radio). They tasted like honey instead of sugar. And the texture… Gone were all of those fibers that need to be dislodged from between your front teeth (again, the solution is the toothpick – you seriously didn’t have one of those dispensers?). Instead, the tenderness was unreal – too perfect to be created by nature – and slid down your throat and into your tummy like Jell-O.
So when Kim (Head Guru of the FCI library) gave me an Indian, or Alphonso Mango to try, my heart raced and stomach gurgled in anticipation. Every year when Alphonso Mangoes are in season, Kim buys them by the flat. The Indian grocery in Jackson Heights, near where she lives, treats her like royalty because she regularly purchases the pricey delicacies in such mass quantities. Eager to share the magic of one of her favorite fruits, she brought several to work with her one day to give out to Alphonso-virgins like myself. Cradled in protective, foam netting, the bright, emerald green mango was even smaller than a Champagne Mango. Kim assured me that it was even more delicious, as well. She spoke of its intense, yet perfume-like mango-ness and how it, too, lacked the dental floss like fibers that typical mangoes were fraught with. When its current, vivid green color began to meld into golden yellow and its flesh turned tender to the touch, it would be ready to enjoy.
And finally, here’s what you’ve been waiting for. Where’s the disaster you ask? Well, I’m right here and just itching to share. Stories of Alphonso deliciousness made me mango-crazy. I could almost taste its mythical, tangy sweetness, but yet still had to wait until the damn thing ripened so as not to cheat myself out of the full experience. So… I bought a sack of Champagne Mangoes and proceeded to eat about 3-5 of them a day over the 4 days that it took the Alphonso to mature. Every morning, I would literally wake up and run to the kitchen to check its progress. When I found that it wasn’t ready, I would down 3 mangoes on the spot to tide myself over, and then usually down 2 more before going to bed. Then one morning, I ran to the kitchen to discover gold marbling with emerald and just a hint of softness when I gently squeezed the mango. I peeled it with fervor, sliced into its flesh, and took my first bite, followed by the 4 more bites needed to devour it all. It was everything Kim promised: no fibers, just tender, perfume sweetness that made my eyes water…
…But then in addition to my eyes watering, my mouth began to itch. Suddenly, my throat felt like I had swallowed a hair ball and I needed to make that oh-so-attractive, hacking sound that my high school chemistry teacher used to do after smoking cigarettes into the exhaust fan. I began to rub my throat, which was on fire with itchiness, but realized that it was my esophagus that was in agony. In fact, I could trace the tender mango morsels blazing a trail of irritation between my lungs down through my stomach. I tried drinking ice water and then hot tea, but neither seemed to dull the pain. Not even my prescription Zyrtec seemed to help as hives began popping up on my back and stomach.
I called my doctor, begging for relief, which was a good sign as it meant my throat hadn’t closed. He prescribed me Prednisone, an oral steroid that helped sooth the itching (after 2+ days) and increased my ability to instantly bead up with sweat from every pore at just the thought of moving faster than a crawl. Oh sweet Cheez Its, I had encountered my first food allergy. And of course, it had to be to something as delicious and perfect as an Alphonso mango. My unluckiness must have somehow repelled its perfection, creating a vortex of histamine-fueled tragedy.
Or… my doctor had two other theories. I may have overdone it with the mangoes (apparently consuming as many as I did in such a short amount of time is a bad idea in general) and have triggered a slight existing mango allergy by packing the Alphonso on top of a solid brick of Champagne Mango. Or… I may be fine with the mango itself and just have sensitivity to something on its skin. I prefer Option #2, although I don’t think my doctor was allowing me to choose for myself between the two theories. I convinced Kim to give me another Alphonso to photo for this post, but I have an ulterior motive as well… I plan to line up some Benadryl, Zyrtec, Prednisone, and a cell phone with a pre-programmed “HELP” text message to doctors, friends, and family. Then, I’m going to throw on protective gloves and wash the outside of the Alphonso with soap and warm water. Finally, I’m going to chow down on that bad boy and pray that I’m not allergic, or at least enjoy it one last time before losing myself in a scratch-fest. I know, I know – you’re wondering where I come up with these great ideas! They just come to me.