Every Sunday morning at 8 a.m. sharp, my immediate family of seven rises to the sound of horns blaring at the gate. Grandpa’s here with breakfast, of course. He enters with rosy cheeks and meticulously unfolds a blue-and-white checkered kitchen towel from a wicker basket. We all throw our hands up at this week’s Julie mango harvest. When the overwhelming heat of dawn swells in the walls of our home, sucking on the seed of an ice-cold ripe mango is pure cooling bliss. But in my opinion, an unripe mango—what we Trinidadians call a “green mango”—trumps all.
Towering 35 feet over the green grass in Grandpa’s garden, casting shade over his home, stands the most majestic tree. It bears bright yellow and orange sun-kissed fruit with a slight pink blush, and a few prized unripe green mangoes camouflaged within the leaves. Problem: Grandpa is only willing to share his fruit once it’s fully grown, but what he doesn’t know can’t hurt him, right? His grandkids—me included—are sneaky. One person distracts Grandpa while another climbs the tree and picks the unripe gems right off the branch. (Depending on your luck, you might find one on the ground.) If Grandpa catches the thief, Arabic swear words are cast toward them, followed by one mighty steups (the sucking sound made by sticking tongue against teeth—a sure sign of irritation). Failure or success, a stolen batch is always worth the scolding.
Green mangoes are an integral ingredient in Trinidadian cuisine, like kutchela, chutney, takari, and my favorite breakfast dish, chow. It’s a garlicky, spicy, tart fruit salad that’s most commonly made with mango, but apple, pineapple, pommecythere, and cucumber may show up, too. On an early morning drive to Maracas Beach, on the north coast of the island, I’ll spy vendors setting up shop to sell chow of all sorts. It’s a popular topping for shark and bake sandwiches, grilled meat, and anything curried—my stomach is growling just typing this.
In chow, hard green mangoes are sliced, marinated in lime juice, and seasoned with shado beni, a spiny coriander plant. If you cannot locate shado beni at your local grocery store, you’re sure to find it at any West Indian or Mexican market. On the island, we may not live in huts without electricity (as some people assume), but we do eat chow with our fingers. Stick to this tradition—you’ll enjoy licking your hands once the bowl is empty—just keep a glass of water at hand because things are bound to get spicy.
Trinidadian Mango Chow
3 large, hard, unripe mangoes
3 limes, juiced
1 pepper (scotch bonnet, habanero, scorpion), seeded and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup shado beni, finely chopped (if you can’t find it, culantro will work, too)
Salt and pepper, to taste
How to Make It
Peel and slice mangoes; throw the slices into a large mixing bowl.
Slice limes and squeeze over the sliced mango.
Add pepper, garlic, shado beni, salt, and pepper to the bowl and toss with your hands.
Serve immediately, or let the fruit marinate for a bit and eat later.