In the Philippines and many parts of Southeast Asia, the onset of summer is ushered in by the appearance of mangoes in fruit stalls, greengrocers, and supermarkets. If, like me, you grew up in the suburbs [or, better yet, in the bucolic provinces], you most probably had at least one mango tree either in the front of the house or in the backyard. It was also a sign of summer when the neighborhood kids would come crowding by to poach the fruit hanging from the lower branches, but I digress…
For most people, much of the pleasure in eating mangoes comes from consuming the ripe fruit: those golden, peachily fragrant ovals with tender yellow-orange flesh oozing with sweet juice. These are eaten as is, either peeled by hand and scarfed down with juice trickling down one’s face or forearms or sliced neatly off the seed in the middle and eaten with a spoon. Pureed, it becomes a gorgeous topping for cheesecakes or a flavoring agent for ice cream and smoothies. Chunked, it can be added to fruit salads or made into pie filling; on a savory note, it is the fruit of choice for crab salads and California maki.
But for many Filipinos (and our neighbors in Thailand), there is also a great deal of pleasure to be had out of eating green mangoes.
Sour, crisp, a vivid emerald green on the outside, and pale jade within, green mangoes are a refreshing way to start a meal, though there are some people who use these to make a cool, pleasantly tart juice drink. There are those who cook them down into chutney and those of us who simply layer strips of unripe fruit with salt, sugar, and ice in a jar to make a sweet-sour pickle that goes down a treat with braises and roasts. But one of the best ways by which to enjoy unripe mangoes is to eat them raw with bagoong.
Similar to the nam prik of Indochinese cuisine, bagoong is a thick, grainy, somewhat odoriferous paste made of salt-fermented fish or shrimp. It is used to add a salty savor to local dishes, but really comes into its own as a condiment to go with meals. While it may be made from any bit of seafood from anchovies (bagoong isda) to oysters (the famed bagoong sisi of Pangasinan), the most popular version is the purplish kind made with tiny freshwater shrimp: bagoong alamang.
When eaten with bagoong alamang, the sour green mangoes gain an irresistible savor and the combination does get quite addictive as the sourness is balanced perfectly by the briny, slightly sweet taste of the shrimp paste. Seriously, a whole green mango sliced into thick strips and eaten with a tiny saucer of bagoong is one of those rare things that causes Filipinos living abroad to salivate enviously: a tart throwback to everything good they left behind at home.