Friday, December 9, 2011

Fruit Of The Palm

Yet another wonderful thing I want to remember is savouring mangosteen after many years on the  way to  Calicut Airport the day we were to return to Delhi.. Under large shady trees, there are any number of vendors doing  brisk business.  Other than the brine fruit carts and  and piles of clam shellls, small waysisde stalls selling sundry snacks dot the journey.  The most welcome is the coconut seller who sits beside a small built up territory of green coconut and deftly swings his scythe,  lops off the head of the coconut and hands out  an instant packaged thirst quencher with a  long plastic straw tucked in for convenient sipping. If a coconut  that falls to your lot also has flesh,  he deftly fashions a spoon from the side of the  green shell which he splits  into two, handing over  two half cups of  really delicious still unformed coconut.This is an old  familiar ritual readily recalled.
Mangosteen, however, was always brought home and eaten, so eating it on the street was a novel experience.
The mangosteen is also a fruit of another palm, and is a little smaller  than the green coconut, rounder in shape and deep purple brown in colour.  It is slit open, again with a scythe and reveals six or eight little sacs filled with a juicy white fruit, resembling perhaps the litchi. There is a thin white outer skin that needs to be peeled off, to get at the soft interior, which is seldom sweet, but approximates to  a more delicate variation of the water chestnut. The mangosteen is called nongu in Tamil Nadu and my nephew assures me that this palm is not cultivated anywhere in  Calicut. It is probably true for I have only seen abundant  coconut palms and betel nut palms.
 I struck up a conversation with the young lad who  efficiently cracked enough  nongu to feed all of us. He had boarded the  bus from Pollachi in nearby Tamil  Nadu to station himself off the highway to Calicut airport in order to sell his produce. Nongu is abundantly available in the summer months  all over South India.
To find it in  November is a bit of luck and I admired this enterprising  lad, who had  carted a sackful of nongus and leaves and a large container with nongu juice, having prepared a sugared drink with the fruit for those who wanted it.  When an order was placed, he picked up one set of palmyra leaves and quickly knotted the slatted ends to make a very pretty bowl. Into this green boat-like container, he slid in the scythed fruit and extended the bowl to the mangosteen muncher.  The  green bowl   not only held mangosteen fruitbut also proved to be an extremely handy receptacle for partaking of  mangosteen juice.

 I carried my leaf fashioned bowl back home to Delhi because it was so hardy and an important reminder that  the best designs were creative and grew out  of functional requirements.  This was a very holistic and eco friendly use of  natural resources, aesthetically presented. How I hope that the nongu will not be subject to the  tetrapack suffering that has befallen the coconut. 


  1. lovely! i've always loved nongu, and fortunately do find them in guntur, but the leaf-bowl is something i've never seen! so innovative really!

  2. Ah! the wonderful toddy palm. Did you see any new stars after the drink? Could you walk a straight line? Did any one say "Ha, ha, whoa, are you okay?" Did you ask for "some moar drinky drinks puhleeze!" "Oh! puhleeze!" Could you say "preliminary"?

  3. not found anywhere else, is it? looks and sounds delicious! made my stomach grumble! and you put up your pic!! :D that much more authentic. gather all this into a book now!

  4. You do get Nungu in Madras, though not as much in abundance as 'Ilaneer'. While the Nungu palms dot the countryside even up North, it is somewhat strange that the fruit is not that commonly available here around Delhi.

  5. Nungu is not Mangosteen. Nungu comes from Palmyra tree and called as Palm fruit. It is known as Tari in Hindi and Ice Apple in British English. Mangosteen is from a different species and its botanical name is Garcinia mangostana.