City Food – Mango Season, Around Town
A poet’s muse.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The mango season in Delhi lasts from late April to early July. It is a time of the year when a devotee of Mirza Ghalib could offer at his tomb in Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti a tribute that would make our Urdu poet the happiest man in… wherever he is now.
The Delhi Walla is thinking of mangoes, of course — Ghalib had a weakness for wine and mangoes.
In the book Ghalib: Life And Letters, authors Ralph Russell and Khurshidul Islam quote the poet writing in a letter that he “would eat them (mangoes) until my belly was bloated and I could hardly breathe”. In another letter, comparing mango to wine, Ghalib says, “I thought of each mango as a sealed glass, filled with the liquor of grape, and filled with such superb skill that not so much as a single drop spilled from any of the sixty-five glasses.”
The authors ascribe Ghalib’s memoirist Altaf Hussain Hali with a famous mango anecdote about the poet that also highlights his cheekiness with the powerful:
“One day…(king) Bahadur Shah, accompanied by Ghalib and a number of other courtiers, were walking in the Hayat Bakhsh or the Mahtab Garden. The mango trees of every variety were laden with fruit, but the fruits of this garden were reserved exclusively for the king and his queens and members of the royal family. Ghalib looked at the mangoes repeatedly, and with great concentration. The king asked him, ‘Mirza, what are you looking at so attentively?’ Ghalib replied with joined hands, ‘My Lord and Guide, some ancient poet has written:
Upon the top of every fruit is written clear and legibly:
‘This is the property of A, the son of B, the son of C.’
And I am looking to see whether any of these bear my name and those of my father and grandfather.’ The king smiled and the same day had a big basket of the finest mangoes sent to him.”
One pleasant hot afternoon, I was walking in the Walled City’s Ballimaran neighbourhood, famous for being Ghalib’s final address, when I came across a young Milk Shake Walla bhayya. His roadside stall did not have the usual electric mixer. Instead, he was preparing the shake in a steel container called dhol, which was lined with crushed ice. The container itself was wrapped in a wet jute bag that cooled the shake by evaporation. The bhayya was churning the mango pulp, which he had mixed with milk and sugar, with a steel rod. “Some people also add lemon juice and call it aam ki shikanji,” he said. He was serving the shake in plastic cups.
The aforementioned mango lemonade is not seen in the newer parts of Delhi. Indeed, many mango-based dishes, which were a common sight in our city’s dining rooms until a few decades ago, are gradually disappearing. Aam ka meetha pulao is a mango-based dessert that is no longer easily available in eateries across the city. “It was a traditional dish in our Old Delhi homes, but now it’s a rarity and you can have it only in a few families,” said author Sadia Dehlvi, who referred me to her cousin Farah Noor Dehlvi for the recipe. “I inherited this recipe from my grandmother,” says Ms Noor, who lives in Noida. “The preparation time is half an hour and I make it each time my daughter Kausar asks for it.”
Here’s the recipe (serves 2-3 people):
2 mangoes (preferably Alphonso), thinly sliced
1/2 cup mawa/khoya
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup desi ghee
Boil the rice till three-fourths done. Throw away the water. Place a layer of rice on a flat pan. Layer it with khoya followed by mango slices. Sprinkle the sugar over the fruit slices and top with another layer of rice. Sauté two cloves in the ghee in a separate pan and add the mixture on to the rice. Put the pan on dum(slow-cook) for 15 minutes. Mix the pulao just before serving.
The summer king