Growing up in a West Indian family, you learn to appreciate certain foods at a young age. For me, one of those foods has always been the delicious mango.
I’d hear about the great mango trees that grew in the yards of my parents childhood homes in Barbados and Guyana; trees so big and expansive they’d be comparable in size to the majestic Live Oaks of the American South.
My dad would tell me how he’d use to climb them as a kid, trying to reach the ripest fruit. One of my most vivid memories from my trip to Guyana when I was eight was watching Veronica, a young girl about my age, climb the biggest tree I’d ever seen, just so she could get some fruit for the Canadian kids. Those mangos dropped from that tree like golden bombs.
Throughout the Caribbean, mangos are so easily accessible and in a surplus that some actually go to waste. Last time I was in Barbados we stayed at my aunts apartment, which had a mango tree growing over the driveway behind the building. Every day I’d count the mangos that had fallen from the tree overnight, lying in the driveway like casualties. I couldn’t believe it. In Toronto you’d often have to pay $1 per mango, and here they were just lying around like scattered leaves.
A few weeks ago my friend Rachel and I visited a new sushi place that opened in our area. Now, my sushi repertoire isn’t that expansive, resulting in me usually relying on some sort of cucumber/avocado/sweet potato combo. I only recently discovered what a Dynamite Roll is, thanks to my friend Dan in Vancouver (and it’s awesome, might I add). Imagine my shock and glee when I found out that our new neighbourhood sushi joint had a mango roll.
As I write this, I can’t recall if they combined the mango with avocado or sweet potato, but it was so good that it inspired me to pick up some mangos when I was doing my LBL shopping trip in Chinatown last week.
Those mangos have been saving me this past week.
I’ve been very careful with them, using them sparingly as I can’t afford to buy anymore. But when I get even the tiniest taste of it; the smallest slice of that juicy, orange pulp makes me forget that for the past five days my diet has been made up of about 90% rice.
Mangos, like breadfruit, cassava, ginnips and even avocados, remind me of what I like to call my other homes of Barbados and Guyana; they remind me of my dad as a youth, climbing that tree, and eating mangos green with black pepper; they, along with other West Indian foods, remind me of my Gran and how much of an awesome cook she was.
This is my ode to the mango. Quite similar to how the pineapple is synonymous with the islands of Hawaii, for me, mangos are a symbol of home.
When you’re trying to survive off of $1.75 in food and drink each day, even a sliver of mango seems like a luxury. You learn to appreciate the things you used to take for granted, especially the foods that you savor and cherish.