Thursday, July 9, 2009

Mumbai's summer fruit - much more than mangoes

Last month, the mango season ended here in Mumbai. At that time, during a conversation about mangoes, the person I was chatting with grumbled, "You can't get good fruit in this country". These are the tropics, she has lived here all her life (she's no spring chicken) and she has plenty of money to buy any fruit she wants. But apparently third-world fruit does not count as fruit. I'm amazed, always, at the innumerable ways - many divorced from all reality - which we Indians can find to disparage ourselves.

I said in surprise that I ate not only mangoes but also canteloupe, chikoo, and other fruits for breakfast every morning. This rich and powerful woman, who wears lots of gold, diamonds and Louis Vuitton every day, then blamed her fruitwallah for not bringing biodiversity to her doorstep. He only brings mangoes, she complained. Well, why would any smart businessman sell her Rs. 30/kilo fruit when she unquestioningly and regularly buys fruit that costs Rs. 200/kilo and lacks the information to ask for other fruit in Mumbai's peak fruit season! Going to the market is one way to benefit from a market economy, but I guess the market street is a little rough on Rs. 8,000 designer shoes...

I love going to the market, which unfortunately I get to do only once a week. All through the summer, I photographed the fruit I was about to eat for breakfast. Here are those and a couple of other results. Enjoy!

Above: Curbside fruit seller at the corner of Tulsi Pipe and Mori roads, Mahim.

Below: Jackfruit seller in the Santa Cruz market. Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus or Artocarpus heterophylla), the world's largest tree-borne fruit, is native to South Asia. When I asked for permission to take the picture, I apologetically told the vendor I would not buy any jackfruit because I don't like it. Truth is, I'd never tasted it (except for jackfruit chips - yum!) because the smell puts me off. But he cheerfully offered me a free sample. It was sweet, and I was surprised to find it was somewhat dry (i.e. not juicy) and chewy. I could get to like it, I guess!

Above: Baby jackfruit on the tree. This picture was not taken in Mumbai like the rest of the photos here. It was in Norris Town, Bangalore, in Feb 2007, using a film camera.

Below:Mangoes (Mangifera indica) are native to the Indian subcontinent. They contain several nutrients and phytochemicals and are very good for health. For some reason they have the (false) reputation for being fattening. A mango has about 105-135 calories, of which none are from fat. It's a virtually fat-free, cholesterol-free fruit. The fruit pictured below is the prized Alfonso variety, named after the fifeenth-century Portuguese fidalgo Alfonso de Albuquerque.

Below: Peeled and uncut Alfonso mango

Below: Mango peel

Below: Mango tart at Theobroma, Colaba - slices of mango resting on almond-flavored pastry cream in a small pastry shell. It tastes as magically wonderful as it looks.

In an effort to learn more about my own carbon footprint, I've taken these days to asking vendors where the fruit I'm buying comes from. Cherries and peaches, for example, come to Mumbai from Kashmir. More on other fruits below.

Below: Canteloupes (Cucumis melo) are native to South Asia. The one below came to Mumbai's Santa Cruz market from Muzaffarpur, Bihar.

Below: With a little bit of homemade yogurt, it made three healthy and yummy breakfasts!

Below: Another variety of canteloupe

Below: A third variety. They're all equally delicious!

Below: One half de-seeded. At the risk of sounding cheesy, I'll say that cutting open a kharbooza (canteloupe) or sitaafal (custard apple) is a reminder of the abundance of nature: sweetness, nutrients, juice, and seeds, all crammed into one package. I would never buy cut fruit in a plastic cup in an American supermarket, and certainly never unnatural seedless fruit - I enjoy taking the time to cut and peel fruit. Nothing in life can be so important that you have to eat in a tearing hurry on a regular basis.

Below: Black jambul (a.k.a. jambu, jamun, Syzygium cumini, Syzygium jambolanum, Eugenia cumini and Eugenia jambolana) is native to the Indian subcontinent. It was introduced into the Americas by the Portuguese (Brazil, of course). They're about 1.5" long, but packed with enough dye to make your tongue purple for a few hours. The ones pictured below came to Mumbai from southern Gujarat. I asked the young woman who sold them to me what she would sell after the jambul season, and she said wouldn't sell anything, she'd go back to the fields.

Below: Jambul seeds are a pretty green inside, and useful in controlling diabetes.

Below: These lychees (Litchi chinensis) came to the Santa Cruz market in Mumbai from Bengal. Native to China, they grow in much of S. and SE Asia, and are rich in Vitamin C.

Below: Chikoo (also known as sapota, sapodilla, nispero, Latin name Manilkara zapota). Native to southern Mexico, introduced in SE Asia during colonization. It is very cheaply available in India. The fruit pictured below is local, i.e. from within Maharashtra state or from southern Gujarat. It's sweetest when it's soft enough to take apart with your hands - no need for a knife. If it smells a bit sour, that means it's overripe. Humble though it may be, the chikoo's sweet flavor and malty texture makes it ideal for milkshakes and ice-cream.

Below: The custard apple or sitaafal (Annona reticulata) is another exotic fruit (from the Americas, I think) that it's hard not to think of as Indian. It's about the size of an apple.If you let yourself be put off by its unfortunate toad-like appearance, you're denying yourself a wonderful treat! The meat is very sweet and creamy, with a slightly sandy texture. It's a very popular ice cream flavor in Mumbai when the fruit is in season.

Below: No need for a knife - you can gently take the fruit apart with your hands when it's ripe. The seeds are not edible, though (generations of grandmothers crushed and boiled them in coconut oil to make an effective herbal lousicide!). This fruit yielded 60 seeds. Yes, I counted.

Below: This peach came to Mumbai from Kashmir. European scientists called the peach Prunus persica because they thought it was native to Iran. But it's originally from China (not Georgia!). An average sized peach contains 30-35 calories, Vitamins A, C and E, fiber, and phytochemicals. In other words, it's healthy! Here's a nice American webpage that explains the history of peaches and links to peach recipes.

Below: Papaya (Carica papaya) is native to Central America, and unrelated to the North American pawpaw. I guess the season really starts in the early monsoon. Papaya is very common in South and SE Asia, South Africa. It can be eaten ripe (yellow) or unripe (green, in salad or curry). It is fat-free and very high in Vitamin C. Did you know that green papaya has contraceptive properties? The papaya tree below is in rural Karjat. I took the picture on a film camera in 2004.

There are still many fruits not pictured here, including the incredible palmyra fruit, known as taar gola in Marathi and Gujarati (I ate my purchase before I started this project, and never bought it again, and the season passed), plum, red date, ber (Ziziphus jujuba), red cherry, plum, pomegranate, pineapple, watermelon, etc., etc., etc.

I must acknowledge Indira of Mahanandi, whose approach to food I share in many respects, and whose delightful photography is partly what inspired me to put together this photo essay, even though my skill, patience and talent does not match hers.


Monday, July 6, 2009

Monsoon night in Mumbai

Wadala road bridge, 1:30 am: The light from a street lamp falls on a few tents on the curb, in which families are sleeping. The tents are covered in blue or white plastic sheets in case it rains. Outside one of the tents, a small white cat sits quietly, its back to the cars on the road.

Mumbai's shabby public infrastructure

Got masking tape?

For some reason, sloppy paint jobs abound in Mumbai. Not only are freshly painted railings and things not cordoned off until the paint dries, but they don't even have a simple sign saying “wet paint”. Thousands of passers-by find out the hard way, and taxpayer money ends up achieving fingerprinty finishes on public infrastructure.

This particular sloppy paint job was at the main entrance of one of Bombay's most beautiful buildings, a heritage site. I'm not naming it here because as soon as I took the picture, I was told photography is not allowed (of course there was no sign saying so!). But since nobody required me to delete the picture from my camera, here it is:

Here's a closer look on the other side of the arch:

Below is a shot of Platforms 1-2 at Khar Station in suburban Mumbai. They were painting the metal beams under the roof with a metallic silver paint (you can see the bamboo scaffold in the background). I guess it has just never occurred to anyone in the railways that it may be worth investing in some plastic sheeting or drop cloths, or at least requiring painters to spread old newspapers so that the benches and ground look neat afterwards.

Beautiful antique bench, splattered with silver metallic paint: