There is much debate about the world’s best mangos - and given the fruit’s esteemed standing in the fruit world - much to debate about. Are the world’s best mangos the Sindhri, the curvaceous national fruit of Pakistan that is grown in Sindh, the dry, southern edge of Pakistan, that due to its extreme sweetness are also known as Honey Mangos? Or is it the sunflower yellow Nam Dok Mai, the fibreless, juicy number that comes galloping into season in Thailand in June and July? Or is it the Badami mango, grown throughout southern India, most especially in tropical Kerala, and best eaten straight from the fridge?
For Filipinos, it’s the petit but lushly vegetated island of Guimaras that takes first prize for producing the world’s best mango. Others agree: revered not just in the Philippines, a nation with a bounty of delicious tropical fruit, Guimaras mangos are reportedly served at both the White House and Buckingham Palace too.
The Mango Culture on Guimaras
A mere dot off the coast of Iloilo on Panay in the Visayas, the people of Guimaras are pretty serious about their mangos. It’s forbidden to bring other fruits here, most especially mangos, in case a renegade bug could spread and destroy the island’s plantations, tallied at 50,000 according to the tourist brochure that a friendly officer pushes my way as I descend from the rickety ferry that shuttles the half hour journey between Iloilo and Guimeras. The ferry is the only way to get to Guimaras, which has 160,000 inhabitants, most of them involved in the mango trade. Several of them share my ferry, alongside a few dozen chickens, two fatted pigs and seven motorbikes.
I pick up a three wheeled trike driven by a plump but cheery man in a man sporting a mango t-shirt from the ferry terminal and as we zoom along the forest road, intermittently dodging potholes, sometimes hitting them, I attempt to read some more from the tourist brochure.
The History of Mangos on the Island
It was the year 1581 when Spanish missionaries settled in Guimaras in an attempt to Christianise the island's natives. The Trappist Monastery, one of several monasteries still on the island, was established in the 1970’s and is heavily involved in processed mango production, churning out jams, jellies, dried mango strips and pastes. They use mangos from their own orchards, which fan out from the church and well stocked shop. And while their strips, dips and chips are spectacularly mangoish, I’m here for the real thing, so back in the trike we continue along the sweltering tarmac road to Jordan, the one tree town which holds the esteemed title as capital of Guimaras.
The Guimaras Mango Experience
Although its people are consistently injected with carb rich, sugar intense mango, sleepy Guimaras isn’t exactly action packed, though the tourist brochure assures me this changes once a year when the Manggahan Festival kicks into being (this year from 11th to 22nd May). Celebrating- you guessed it- the humble mango, this is festival Philippine style, with mango cooking competitions and a mango all you can eat competition as well as fun runs, speeches, parties and plenty of singing and dancing by people dressed up as, well, mangos.
And while Jordan epitomises Guimeras sleepiness, it does have mango stalls. They line the side of the road in all shapes and sizes, spilling great piles of mango in all shades of the yellow spectrum- from lemon to butter to gold. I buy a kilogram of the plumpest, smelliest mango I can find and then back in the trike, head to Guimeras’ other famed attraction (or so says the tourist brochure): The beach, an azure blue sea bordered by a slither of silky white sand that sadly has been bombarded by concrete resorts, where feet in the sand, juice dripping over hands and down arms, I devour my kilo catch of sweet, velvety, soft and scandalously succulent Guimaras mango.
Recipes with Mango
It is hard to beat the pure mango flesh, with it smoothness and slight tangy rasp toward the core, and its glowing, yellow-orange colour. But mango’s culinary possibilities can’t be overlooked, and its versatility is astounding. For a light, sweet and savoury summer salad, mix mango with prosciutto along, with red spinach and radish. Then make it all pop even more with a chilli pepper and vinegar dressing for a flavour that could blast the word bland straight out of the dictionary.
But if you are interested in intimacy with mango’s more mellow side, how about mango and chia pudding topped with macadamia nuts and infused with vanilla? Or if you are in the mood for something heartier, make a mango dip by pureeing the fruit with rosemary to slather on spicy chicken wings. Drizzle with lime juice and dig in.