I am waiting for a train home in Paddington station and I’ve got an Alphonso mango burning a hole in my bag. Knowing the best way to eat it isn’t exactly pleasant for my fellow hot and sticky commuters, I find a quiet corner of the station and take it out of my bag.
I squeeze the mango, watching the board, waiting for my train platform to be announced. I know I have a good 20 minutes to enjoy this mango, so I continue squeezing the fruit, feeling the flesh pulverise under the skin, turning to a juicy pulp of deliciousness. I squeeze until I can feel the skin is about to break. I squeeze until I can nearly touch the stone in the middle. I squeeze until I know it is ready to eat.
We’re in the midst of a particularly good mango season, so I’m going to teach you how to eat one properly. You may have been doing it wrong all this time. This is important. A good mango can lift you. A juicy mango can give you as much pleasure as ice cream. A delicious mango can make you forget, for the time it takes to eat it, that the world is a depressing place right now. We could all use some levity. A break. Ten minutes of joy.
I know that some of you will slice and dice, and use the knife to cut off pieces into a bowl. Others might take the skin off before slicing off strips. Many of you may just opt for buying ready-sliced pieces from a supermarket. Don’t.
I tear a small strip off the top of the mango with my teeth and then raise it to my mouth, squeezing it and letting the pulp gush into my mouth. It is a moment of utter joy.
It takes me back… I’m at home, sitting with my mother and sister, dragging slices of mango across my teeth, tearing the flesh into my mouth. Mum is telling us about how, in Aden, they used to take the mango stone, once it had been sucked dry, and put it on the barbecue overnight. Once cooked, it offered up a whole new experience.
I’m with my sisters, eating bowls of rus (mango pulp), laughing and rinsing each other for hours and hours, until we invariably upset Leena for making fun of her feet, a thing years later we’ll all regret.
I’m sitting on the beach in Mombasa, eating mango and watching the sea where my dad learned to swim, ebb and flow, in and out of the bay.
There are so many memories contained in that mango. For Mum, it was the one fruit that always reminded her of home. For Dad, it’s the only fruit he really eats. For me and my sister, it was the biggest treat when mum would come back from the Sunrup cash and carry with a box of six mangos, all hiding among the torn up strips of newspaper.
I squeeze the mango until the skin breaks. I realise someone is staring at me, in disgust. She has just come out of the ticket office and noticed me, hiding in the corner, my hands, mouth and shirt, caked in orange flesh. She practically sprints away from me. My train is called and I run to get it. I still have the stone in my hand.
The stone is the prize, my friends. This is the best bit of the mango. It’s the juiciest bit and your job is to suck it dry. My sister and I had to alternate who got the stone each night. Mum was the martyr, saying she would forego it for us to enjoy.
I sit in the toilet of the train and suck the mango dry. I think of my daughter. The week before she had asked if we could make lassis. I showed her how to make them. All she was interested in was sucking the stone dry, like a vampire.
I sit there, on the toilet of a train heading back to Bristol, thinking about all these things. Maybe mangos are my version of Proust’s madeleines. Most of my happy memories are mango adjacent. It’s a perfect 20 minutes of not thinking about anything else. And it’s exactly what I need.
And now you know the best way, the only way, to eat a mango.