East London is mango capital of the UK

While most Londoners are asleep, dozens of mainly South Asian traders buy and sell hundreds of tonnes of mangoes which are then transported nationwide. Photography by Saima Khalid

Burhan Wazir

Abdul Manan of Wah Fruit & Veg smells a Pakistani mango. “These are from my home country,” he said. Photographed for Hyphen by Saima Khalid

Mango season arrives in the UK each year with a frenzy of activity. Boxes of the tropical fruit containing varieties from Pakistan and India suddenly land in grocery stores, supermarkets and restaurants in late April and disappear at the end of July.

With their honey, pink and pale green hues, they are a source of joy and pride for the UK’s South Asian populations. Boxes of mangoes, including Kesar, Alphonso and Chaunsa varieties, are gifted by friends and family, creating a season of celebration and goodwill.

The UK’s wholesale mango business is headquartered at New Spitalfields Market in east London, where South Asian traders, many of them Muslim, begin work around midnight, packing and selling tonnes of the fruit which will be delivered to shops and restaurants around the country. We recently visited the market early one morning to speak to some of those who have bought and sold mangoes for up to 30 years.

Some of the most sought-after mangoes from India and Pakistan are available for only a few weeks, beginning with Kesar, Alphonso and Badami cultivars in April, and Sindhri and Chaunsa in June.
Boxes of mangoes are loaded onto trolleys and transported to vans and trucks in New Spitalfields Market’s car park. They will eventually be delivered to grocery stores, restaurants and cafes in cities throughout the UK including London, Manchester and Birmingham.
Mickey Singh of Five Star has been working as a mango trader since 1982. “It’s a very demanding business. You have to be available 24 hours a day,” he said. “My pay is good, I meet all my demands and I am a family man. This job gives me time with my family.”
Traders typically begin work at New Spitalfields Market around midnight and finish about 9am. Some of the busiest mango trading occurs between 2am and 6am when a steady stream of retailers and wholesalers arrive at the market.
Khurram Zaheer of Wah Fruit & Veg has been selling mangoes at New Spitalfields Market for more than 20 years. He estimates selling up to five tonnes each week. Zaheer said the UK’s cost of living crisis has affected sales this year. “Petrol charges have hit everybody. Mangoes are very expensive this year and people can’t afford them. They’re not a necessity, they are a luxury. People are spending money on basic foods like flour, oil, sugar and vegetables.”
High temperatures and water shortages have led to mango farmers in Pakistan reporting a fall in production by up to 40 per cent in some areas. Pakistan is among the world’’s top exporters of mangoes, harvesting nearly two million tonnes annually across southern parts of Punjab and Sindh.
Set over 31 acres with around 115 traders, New Spitalfields Market is a custom-designed wholesale space for fresh produce and flowers from around the world. A number of the trading businesses include fifth and sixth-generation family firms largely specialising in African, Asian or Eastern European produce.
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