We have loads of amazing fruit available all year round here. Tropical fruits such as mango, pineapple, papaya and jack fruit to name but a few abound in local markets. For a large proportion of the year, whilst Cambodians may buy them they also deem them inferior quality due them having been imported (mainly from Vietnam or Thailand). However, for each and every fruit there is a brief window when the local crops ripen and juicy delicious ripe fruits flood the market and the whole country becomes obsessed with that particular sweet treat.
We’re currently right in the depths of both durian and mango season. Durian is the stinky fruit legendary for it’s odour, the pungency of which leads many guesthouses and transport companies to ban it from their premises/vehicles and divides the opinion of foreigners (Cambodians for the most fall in to the worship of durian category). In my opinion, the taste of durian is not special enough to endure the stink or pay the exorbitant price, however friends of mine rave about the delicacy with religious fervour almost salivating as they speak, imagining the delight they have in store.
For me, mangoes are where it’s at right now. It pleases me greatly to be able to peel and chop one into my yoghurt every morning and to slurp another one greedily instead of having something savoury for dinner. They’re so ripe and plump you can almost squeeze the flesh off the stone, the juice dripping down your hands as you do. My idea of heaven (or one of many ideas to be 100% correct).
All around the province trees are overloaded with the fruits. Every householder has their trusty mango pole to hand (a long bamboo pole with some form of catcher, fashioned from net or plastic or anything else deemed suitable) at the end. Mangoes are fished from the tree for eating with the family or selling either outside the home or at the local market.
Crime rises at this time of year as people spot opportunities to make a quick buck by grabbing their mango pole and using it to harvest mangoes from over the garden walls of others that can then be sold for a profit. On one of my first visits to see Linda in the big blue house where I subsequently lived for a few months I was witness to just such thievery as we looked across the balcony to the perimeter of the property only to see a long pole waving precariously about around one of the trees in the garden.
And that’s not the only danger of mango season. The fruits themselves can be dangerous. Living in a courtyard laden with trees I have had more than my fair share of near misses as I’ve ducked and dived to dodge low hanging fruit as I cycle home. Trust me when I say that connecting with an unripe mango right between the eyes is not a fun experience.
Car and motorbike drivers, lunatics at the best of times, ignore any rules of the road there may be in pursuit of the ourchase of ripe fruit, swerving directly into my path to buy them from the roadside stall that’s popped up outside a shack around the corner. The same stall where, when I stopped to buy mangoes, my pedal fell off my bike and I nearly lost my fingers to the big plank of wood the girls were using to try to hammer it back on.
And then there’s one more danger. Answering mama’s repeated ‘teacher, teacher’ calls as I lie on my bed contemplating my navel I’m be greeted with a very sweaty mama sporting a huge basket of unripe mangoes. I go to dive in to grab a couple uttering my thanks as I do, only to be met with a fervent “No, no, no!” as the basket is thrust towards me. I try once more to take my pick and the basket is dipped from my hand and then thrust at me with the demand “All!” Yep, apparently we have so many that I am now the custodian of a basket of 15, 1 of which is about the same length as my head and all of which will no doubt ripen at the same rate presenting me with 15 fruits to consume within a couple of days. Even for a mango lover like me that’s beyond doable and sadly, my ‘freezer’ doesn’t quite live up to his name so the option of storing loads of delicious pulp in there isn’t open to me.
And so, the 15 mangoes currently sit atop my fridge as I ponder how to get them out of my house and to the lovely girls around the corner without being spotted by and meeting with the wrath of mama.
It’s mango madness don’t you know!