Ever had a mango in tropical Asia? It will ruin you. Whenever you come across a mango display anywhere other than tropical Asia, you will remember the dripping, tender flesh, the sweetness, the diesel aroma. You will curse the name Tommy Atkins.
Obviously, I am one of the ruined. Or at least I was until recently, when I discovered a source of Stateside pure mango flavor that I hesitate to tell you about. It’s not that I’m afraid of revealing my secret stash. There’s plenty to go around. It’s just, well, embarrassing.
A couple of months ago I was in San Francisco’s Japantown and poked into the supermarket there for a pre-dinner snack. I came away with a pack of green apple Hi-Chew, a Japanese fruit candy. The texture is somewhere between Starburst and gum, satisfyingly chewy, and I was pleased with the Granny Smith–like flavor. Then I came back to Seattle and forgot about Hi-Chew until I was shopping at the huge Uwajimaya supermarket and ran into my friend Neil Robertson, a local pastry chef.
Robertson makes fancy desserts by day but has a serious extracurricular Japanese candy habit. He turned me on to Coffeebeat, an addictive crunchy mocha candy sold in a tube. “Have you tried Hi-Chew?” I asked him. He’s tried milk tea flavor Hi-Chew in Japan, but never green apple, and there it was by the checkout, along with half a dozen other flavors, including lemon, blood orange, and mango. I bought one of each.
The lemon and strawberry flavors are fine but no better than Starburst. Blood orange is eerily similar to the flavor of a real blood orange.
Then I tasted the mango flavor, and I flipped out. “This is like a Thai mango!” I told my wife, who tried one and agreed, although she didn’t hop up and down about it like I did. Honestly, a mango Hi-Chew captures everything great about mangoes short of the juice running down your arm.
Not only do you not need to hop a plane to Asia to taste real mango flavor, but you may not even have to go to a Japanese grocery. I stopped into 7-Eleven the other day and found cantaloupe Hi-Chew at the counter. Turns out 7-Eleven is owned by a Japanese company. Here’s hoping they put Hi-Chew on a corner near you.