Despite a recent souring of U.S.-Pakistan relations, a new trade development promises to sweeten up things.
The first shipment of Pakistani mangoes to the U.S. touched down at O’Hare International Airport last week, the fruits of what Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani said was "two years of strategic dialogue" to improve relations between the countries.
Although the fragrant chaunsa mangoes won’t be in stores for a few weeks, a crowd Saturday at the Palmer House Hilton got an early taste.
Clad in tailored suits and elegant shalwar kameezes, the mostly Pakistani-American guests strolled the hotel’s grand ballroom sampling chilled mango chunks, mango ice cream, mango tarts and other delicacies.
Some sipped non-alcoholic mango margaritas and sangria as they listened to a battery of impassioned mango speeches from politicians including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle
Afterward, the last mango masterpiece was revealed: a green and white fondant-covered four-tier mango cake.
But even in something as sweet and juicy as a mango, seeds of cultural and political rivalries can grow.
"We have been waiting for this for the past 20 years for Pakistani mangoes to come here," said Samina Khattak a Pakistani-American living in Chicago. "We have been eating the Mexican and Indian mangoes, but they are not the same."
Indians who learned of the Pakistani shipment boasted that their native country’s Alphonso mangoes, which debuted in the U.S. in 2007, are still the best.
Swetal Patel is the vice president of Raja Foods in Skokie and was the original importer of Alphonsos, whose season has just ended and can cost about $3 a piece.
The Indian executive said he also plans to carry the chaunsas for his Pakistani customers, though he anticipates those will also be expensive to ship.
Patel said he loves Kent mangoes from Mexico and thinks Pakistani mangoes can be good. But, he said, "nothing compares to a good Indian Alphonso."
Farahnaz Ispahani, a member of the Pakistani Parliament, politely disagreed.
"I have tasted Alphonsos and there is no competition," said Ispahani, who is also the wife of Haqqani and the Pakistan presidential spokeswoman . "The soil in Pakistan produces the sweetest mangoes in the world and once Americans taste Pakistani mangoes in all their depth and flavors they’ll never turn back. They’ll forget Alphonsos and any other mangoes."
Oak Brook surgeon Murtaza Arain was happy to see the fruits from his childhood.
"I have been here 42 years and some of these mangoes are very close to those I grow on my farm in Pakistan," Arain said, rolling a chaunsa in his hands and biting off the stem so he could drink from the fruit like a juice box.