Indian Mangoes — Now In America For almost 20 years, Indian mangoes weren't allowed in the U.S. Now, commentator Sandip Roy gives us a taste of the sweetest product of U.S.-India relations.
NPR logo

Indian Mangoes — Now In America

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Indian Mangoes — Now In America

Indian Mangoes — Now In America

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Now even as Iran considers who it wants to be its next president, we've been thinking about America's own presidents and the kinds of things they've said overseas. For example, President Kennedy made history in Berlin.

President JOHN F. KENNEDY: Ich bin ein Berliner.

INSKEEP: For President Reagan it was…

President RONALD REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

(Soundbite of applause)

INSKEEP: Commentator Sandip Roy says Indian Americans will always remember President Bush for this.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The United States is looking forward to eating Indian mangoes.

INSKEEP: Which sticks in Mr. Roy's mind because it was President Bush who allowed mangoes to be imported from India if they're treated to kill fruit pests.

SANDIP ROY: Before the Indian mango detente, all you could get in the U.S. were undocumented mangoes, smuggled in through customs by fanatics like my friend Nawaaz.

NAWAAZ: So I had this bag, wondering what should I do? Should I throw these mangoes away? Because they were smelling so much. Or should I just try to smuggle them through anyway? My heart was beating terribly. But I finally decided the mangoes smelled too good to actually waste.

ROY: But now I can walk into my local Indian grocery store and find boxes of mangoes from India next to the basmati rice. Sansos(ph), the store clerk at Namaste Plaza in Silicon Valley says when summer rolls around, he starts getting the phone calls.

SANSOS (Clerk, Namaste Plaza): The regular customers, they call us and ask for the mangoes. Some buy like one box and some buy like five, six.

ROY: At over $30 a box, that's a king's ransom for a taste of home. But I paid up.

In the box were 12 forlorn mangoes, each wrapped in a little pink Styrofoam net stocking. A sticker proclaimed treated by irradiation. This is not how mangoes were meant to be sold. This is how mangoes should be sold.

(Soundbite of chatter in foreign language)

ROY: Piled on the side of the street, great pyramids of red, green and gold, ripening in the lazy heat and the vendor chanting the names of his mangoes.

(Soundbite of Indian Vendor chanting)

ROY: There are said to be some 1,500 varieties of mangoes in India. Only a couple have been cleared for export to the U.S. One, the Alphonso, is known as the King of Mangoes in India.

For a more unbiased opinion, I took my shrink-wrapped Alphonso to Elizabeth Falkner, chef and author of Demolition Desserts. We stood in the bustling kitchen of Orson, her restaurant in San Francisco.

First she tried the little Mexican mango.

Ms. ELIZABETH FALKNER (Chef, Author, "Demolition Desserts"): Really yellow on the inside, and like, I'm pretty used to this flavor.

ROY: Then the big red and green Guatemalan one.

Ms. FALKNER: These mangoes are okay to me, because there's stringiness to them. And that's something I'm not really crazy about. They taste like more vegetable than fruit.

ROY: And the Alphonso.

Ms. FALKNER: Oh my god. That is really good. Mmmm. They have a really different flavor than most mangoes I've ever had. Just a good sort of deep sweetness, almost like a caramelized sweetness. Wow, can you tell me where I can buy these now?

ROY: The Alphonso is still king, even when it's eaten in a kitchen in San Francisco.

Ms. FALKNER: Mmmm.

ROY: But I still crave that first mango of summer in Calcutta, the juice dripping down my chin, the cool orange flesh the only thing that made the muggy days bearable. My mother can still summon the mangoes of her childhood as if reciting a prayer.

Mrs. ROY (Sandip Roy's mother): Himsafar and Langra. Langra is most delicious. Differentist(ph).

ROY: That taste of mango was a price of immigration. The mango was a symbol of loss, and all the sweeter for it. Now my local Indian paper in California advertises Alphonso saplings for sale, one per family. The Alphonso might become just another fruit. But at least for the other 1,499 varieties, you still need to catch a plane to India.

(Soundbite of vendors chattering)

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Commentary from Sandip Roy, an editor with New American Media and host of "New America Now" on KALW in San Francisco. Comment at This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.