Both sweet and symbolic, Pakistani mangoes to arrive in Chicago

July 29, 2011

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(Wikimedia Commons/Jahanzaib Zai)
Chaunsa mangoes.

Pakistanis who’ve longed for easy access to their country’s most prized fruit will likely be able to find their favored mangoes on supermarket shelves in Chicago soon. This week the first shipment of Pakistani mangoes, all of the sweet chaunsa variety, arrived in Chicago. It will be feted Saturday at a mango celebration at Chicago’s Palmer House Hotel, by no less than the Pakistan Ambassador to the US and other invited guests.

“The most important thing for people to realize (is) that this is an unprecedented situation,” said Asad Hayauddin, Consul for Trade and Commerce at the Consulate General of Pakistan in Chicago. Hayauddin began working closely with US and Pakistani officials three years ago to figure out how to satisfy regulations set by the US Department of Agriculture that had long kept the fruits from reaching the US market. The USDA forbade the import of mangoes for fear that the fruit would carry pests that might harm US crops.

“This is the first time in the history of US-Pakistan commercial or trade relations that perishable commodities are coming in,” said Hayauddin.

Hayauddin spoke by phone from Sioux City, Iowa, where he was with the initial shipment of more than 2,800 lbs of mangoes at an irradiation facility. All mango shipments to the US will arrive in Chicago, and be treated in Iowa before being sold. Of the first shipment that arrived this week, none will be sold commercially, said Hayauddin. Rather, those will be consumed at the mango celebration. But Hayauddin expects the fruit to be on the shelves of South Asian grocers in the US soon.

Hayauddin says the mango holds a particular importance in Pakistan. It is the country’s second major fruit crop and, culturally speaking, it figures prominently in the country’s cuisine and history. Entry to the US market therefore carries symbolic importance. Hayauddin added that without political support at the highest level of US and Pakistani government, the barriers to entry would not have been sorted out.

“It was a massive team effort from the top political (level) down, to the diplomatic representatives, to the technical people on the ground,” said Hayauddin.