Two weeks ago, six people sat around a table, and the subject was mangoes. Could one consume a whole case alone? Obviously, no problem. Two? Most likely. It should come as no surprise: the table consisted of four women hailing from Filipino heritage, one from Puerto Rican–Hawai‘ian, and me. This time of year, anyone with a culinary tradition from (or deep affinity for) mangoes and their tropical climes reaches peak frenzy.
Mangoes are in season from May through September. You’ve seen them in grocery stores, sending up their floral aromas, emissaries from more tropical climes. You’ll find them coming from Florida, our growing stronghold in the U.S., and from farther away.
There are different kinds: the bigger, more fibrous red-green Mexican mangoes, with aromas almost like resin or gasoline around the greenest part of the skin, perfect for mango salsas, cutting, or grilling. Or creamy, pulpy, sweet Ataulfo mangoes, sometimes called honey or champagne mangoes. Likely from Mexico or Florida, these are akin to mangoes in the Philippines and certain varieties from India—so floral, they’re almost heady. And if we’re lucky we see Alphonso mangoes, the ambrosial king of mangoes in India, a subcontinent with so many mango varieties.
Last week, Ayurveda practitioner Sapna Punjabi-Gupta, who teaches classes and lectures at the Crow Museum of Asian Art, took to Instagram Live to talk mangoes with her daughter and make a deep-dish, Texas-style mango cobbler. In a post announcing the live chat and demo, she wrote, “I have serious mango problems. During mango season, if I have less than 2 mangoes at home, I get restless. And I can’t finish the last mango unless a new box of mangoes arrives. I know … mango problems.”
This coming weekend, Anna Swann, a leader in the Filipino pop-up scene, will make an ephemeral appearance at Khao Noodle Shop, popping up with slices of mango float: “pretty much a Filipino ice box cake,” she says. They’re made with graham crackers acting as the cake layer and whipped cream folded with condensed milk, the soft layers melding into an ambrosial pillow. It’s a dessert she didn’t grow up eating but she became obsessed with on a recent trip to the Philippines. At the pop-up, the summer treat will be joined by ice candy—“like Filipino Otter Pops, essentially,” Swann says—in island-inspired flavors like ube-Oreo, avocado, and calamansi.
The mango maven isn’t new to the game. In April, Swann streamed an Instagram Live video on making mango shakes, like the ones you’d find in the Philippines (think of a mango lassi without yogurt: fruit, ice, a splash of coconut water, and a touch of sweetener).
She’s woven it into coconut chia pudding—mango puree atop a chia pudding with lime zest and tajín (chile-lime salt). For a pop-up last year, Swann fashioned her own version of the peach-mango hand pie from Jollibee’s, the internationally beloved fast food chain. The little hand-held parcel filled with cinnamon-and-cardamom-kissed fruit is due for a comeback, she opines. (And while Saturday’s pop-up at Khao is sold out, keep your eyes peeled for the mango float to return, too.)
She, like so many, also just loves eating mangoes straight up sliced into thirds, scooping out and eating the flesh, and then gnashing what’s left off the seed.
Anna Swann on how to pick the perfect mango.
Smell it. If you want to eat it within a day, “you should be able to smell the mango. If you can’t smell anything, it’s not ripe just yet.” Then feel it. “You don’t want it too soft; you want some firmness, like an avocado. Especially [for] champagne mangoes.” And look for a smooth skin and a few wrinkles, but not too many.
What she’s looking for: “I love it when it’s that perfect texture,” she says, “Not too soft, not too firm, really fragrant—and so juicy.”
Those are the best summertime memories, standing over the sink, juice dripping down to your elbows. “You’re so sticky, but it’s so worth it!”
Note: Asian, Indian, and Mexican groceries like H-Mart, Patel Brothers, and Fiesta, are your best bets for a robust array of mangoes.