Before a mango is carved out, it looks like a blushing egg, large and heavy. When you’ve peeled away the skin, yellow fuzziness is left. After it’s been shaped into a flower, it looks like what Frida Kahlo would paint if someone gave her a mango. It’s a yellow cauliflower with points instead of bumps sticking out like 3-D mosaic pieces.
This sweet treat, I had heard, was known to be sold in a bunch of spots around the city. I set out to look for this flowered mango. Being new to the city can have its restrictions, so New Yorkers are good people to ask. Friends I had asked couldn’t snap their fingers right away and tell me the exact spot where I could find a flowered mango. They each thought about it carefully, almost retracing the steps in the back of their head where they had seen or savored this flowered mango.
One girl swore she had seen a señora stationed right in front of the Strawberry store in Union Square. I’ve walked by there a lot, and I’ve only seen hot dogs and cashews on that corner. So nevermind on that suggestion.
Another person who resides in Queens didn’t know where there were flowered mangoes, but figured that someone at one of the many food stands outside the Jackson Heights subway stop was bound to know. I thought, yeah, why shouldn’t all the food vendors be linked somehow? I saw more taco trucks than I’ve I’d ever seen here before, but no mangoes. I walked around asking people whether or not they could cut a mango into the shape of a flower. At the last vendor before retreating home, a woman told me no one in Queens cut their mangoes like flowers anymore, everyone just cut them into square pieces. And that was that.
I looked online and there were tales of places like the 14th st St and University spot, and. 96th st St and Amsterdam, but they were posted at least two years ago I had searched high and low except in the Bronx, I hadn’t heard anything from there. There was one place left: Coney Island. I headed on the Mermaid Parade Day, one of the most traditional and colorful celebrations at the beach that probably won’t be seen again for many summers to come (depending on whether the city let’s the beach keep it’s authenticity).
Everyone was there, even the sun that was clouded days earlier. As I went with a friend of mine we got off the train, saw the Os Gemeos mural and a got a good feeling about the place. We headed in the direction of the crowd and I went up to a man in an armchair staring at women in their scantily clad outfits yelling, “PHOTOS! PHOTOS! WE GOT PHOTOS!” I asked him if he knew where there mango street vendors were. He waved his hand up swatting a fly away form his face and recommended I try the boardwalk. He said most of the vendors had disappeared because they couldn’t or wouldn’t get the license to sell the mangoes legally, probably because they’d be required to pay taxes. And even if some of them had a chance to find a spot, the police would be along in a short time to kick them out of there.
I was starting to get hungry passing by the classic Coney Island Heart Clog food area. I turned to my friend to remind her to keep an eye out for someone with a mango on a stick, and two, maybe one millisecond, maybe even mid-sentence, this guy passes by with a flowered mango in his hand. I charged towards him and asked where he had gotten the mango. He smiled as if knowing the plight of those who look for the mango, and said, “Towards the end of the boardwalk.”
I was so excited, it was like finding the holy chalice. There they were, sitting almost happily at their stand. After handing over the 2 dollars for one, I chose my mango. They had all the condiments on the side. Now here’s the important thing about condiments with mangoes. You don’t have to supplement them with anything if you have to–they’re already a sweet fruit. If you have to choose, I’d go for the classic limón y sal flavoring. Some people like to put chilero on their mangoes, because some people just love to make their mouths all spicy for some reason. In Mexico where the streets are more than likely paved with flowered mangoes, they’re usually accompanied by chamoy, chili paste. You all know it; we used to just chew the hell out of it as a kid, leaving our mouths burning.
As it turns out, this stand was a legit stand, as the señora made sure to stress. She didn’t have much time to talk, seeing as she had a lot of business that day. I could tell that it was popular even on days when there wasn’t a big parade happening. And it may be the only reliable place left, where you can get these beautiful mangoes rain or shine. Although what with Coney Island shutting down soon, maybe this summer is your last chance. After that, it’s up to you to rummage the town for it. But if you’re like me, you might not want to have to wait for the miracle chance of finding a street vendor, so I suggest testing your carving skills and giving the flower a whirl yourself!
But if you want the real deal, purchased from a (legit) vendor, take the trip to Coney Island, head to the boardwalk, and while walking towards the tower, look for the stand facing the ocean. (How’s that for some good Latin American directions, for a truly Latin American treat?)