A summer full of fresh

Agent Vinod be damned. The best sort of intrigue, negotiation, and spying action is right here in Mumbai — Navi Mumbai, to be precise. On a hectic Tuesday morning at The Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) market in Vashi, surrounded by trucks unloading massive quantities of vegetables and fruits that exude a fragrance that belies the chaos all around, I watched, fascinated, as 65 year-old mango vendor Vasant Chaskar signalled to a retailer who wanted to buy 20 kg of the fruit to sell at his shop in Chembur.

Wholesalers at the APMC market have a unique way of bargaining; over a covered handshake. Each finger depicts a rate — the index finger, Rs 500, the middle finger, Rs 1,000 and the ring finger, Rs 1500. The seller indicates his price via the finger he places on the buyer’s wrist.  Pics/Sameer Markande 

As they shook hands, Chaskar threw his gamcha (towel) onto their interlocking pair of hands. The duo looked at each other, frowned, then nodded, and then, just like that, a deal was fixed. Bemused, I asked Chaskar what had just happened. “Nobody but the buyer will know the price a vendor quotes for his wares,” he explained, describing the finger method of quoting a price he learnt from his father 50 years ago.

“We indicate the price via the finger we place on the retailer’s wrist. While the index finger means Rs 500, the middle and ring finger are Rs 1000 and Rs 1,500 respectively. No dialogue takes places while sealing a deal. I press my middle finger when I quote Rs 1,000 for 10 kgs, for example,” he announced, matter-of-factly, as I gaped in wonderment.

A worker at a musk-melon shop catches the fruit passed on to him by a fellow worker. Retailers sell papayas for Rs 40 to Rs 60 per kg, and musk-melons at the rate of Rs 60 per kg

This is regular practice at APMC, a wholesale market, which gets nearly all of Mumbai’s produce from all over India and abroad. It opens at 11 pm for trucks that come in from across India, bringing in tons of fruits and vegetables — red pumpkin from Bengaluru, cucumber from Chennai, mulberries from Mahableshwar, watermelons from UP, MP, and Karnataka, and papayas from Solapur.

Things move like clockwork — labourers throw fruits to other labourers with precise aim, who then fill the tokris for mathadi workers to carry into the market. By 2 pm, retailers make their entry, cracking deals within two to three minutes, as another set of workers put the fruits and vegetables on the weighing scales. Buyers make prompt exits, driving away with their fresh stock in their trucks and vans.

A cucumber costs Rs 120 per 10 kg at the APMC market. Retailers sell it for Rs 60 per kg

Truck drivers are paid Rs 1 to Rs 1.50 for each kg of produce they transport to the market. This summer has seen water shortages in the villages that grow the fruits and vegetables all over India, says Girish Doke, a wholesaler who stocks papaya at his shop. Alongside, 40 year-old Vikas Shete adds, “Most of the fruits and vegetables that are produced in Maharashtra are consumed by December, and thus, the summer sees a lot of produce coming in from other states.” 

Summer essentials
Your summer vegetables list should include red pumpkin, cucumber, okra, gourd, suran (dry yam), turia (fresh ridged gourds) and all leafy vegetables such as spinach, celery, etc.
Fruits: Your fruit bowl must have jackfruit, watermelon, chikoo, mango, papaya, figs, setur (mulberry), musk-melon and pomegranate.

Nutritionist Kavita Mukhi shows this reporter how to pick a healthy watermelon, which costs approximately Rs 30 per kg. The best way to pick and choose your vegetables is to visit a market. Sadly, almost all produce at city markets are full of pesticides, she says.  Pics/Bipin Kokate

Why you must eat seasonally
“When calendars were first designed, they were based on the season of harvest, which indicates that there is a time for everything in every country. People ate according to that season. Just the way we cool our body externally by switching on the AC, summer fruits have cooling and energising properties. When thirsty, it is advisable to eat watermelon, mangoes, lychees or musk-melons. This will quench thirst and provide energy with its natural sugars. Also, cold soups are great for the summer. After a long, dehydrated day, a cold soup will cool the organs,” says Hemant Chhabra, a 50 year-old organic farmer who grows his own produce at a farm, Hideout in Jadhpoli, Thane district.

While choosing lemons, pick the ones that are bright yellow , as they are the juiciest. The green tinge indicates that it is still unripe.

He adds, “If you’re bored of your meals, just cut your vegetables differently. This is a Japanese practice that stems from the belief that different cuts will give you a different taste. Also, make the most of cucumbers in the summer.”

The correct way to buy fruits and veggies Mukhi took this writer to Grant Road Bhaji Market to teach her how to pick good quality fruits and vegetables

What it does: : This summer fruit is best to hydrate your body and energise it on a hot day. It acts like an AC, cooling the body from the inside. It tends to throw your body into imbalance when eaten in the cold.
How to buy: Look out for tiny holes in the watermelon, which show that insects have bitten into it. They recognise a sweet fruit, and will always try to eat them.

Mango: What it does: : If you think mangoes add heat to your body and cause pimples, think again. Nature knows best, says Mukhi, who blames the consumption pattern of the fruit for its bad reputation. Mango is rich in Vitamin A, which actually gives you healthy, glowing skin. When eaten on an empty stomach, it has a cooling effect. However, when consumed as aamras along with rotis and curd, it causes acidity.
How to buy: It is likely that a mango on the green side has not been artificially ripened. Buy those and allow them to naturally ripen at home. Always separate the ripe from unripe, wrap in paper in a tray and keep in a sunny area. Bright orange may indicate it is artificially ripened.

What it does: : It is high in potassium, low in calories and rich in Vitamin C. It helps control blood pressure and reduces the possibility of developing kidney stones. Like most fruits, it is beneficial for the skin, thanks to Vitamin A.
How to buy: A good musk-melon is one that smells fresh, and is not too soft to touch.

What it does: Though it takes some energy to chew it properly, it has wonderful hydrating properties. It can provide instant energy, as it is full of natural
sugars. It is most beneficial when eaten whole.
How to buy: You can tell a good pomegranate from a bad one by its smell. A fresh one will be bright red in colour but hard to touch. If it is too soft, it is likely to be over ripe and may have gone bad in parts.

What it does: : It is a laxative and a filling fruit, rich in natural sugars and
Vitamin C.
How to buy: If your finger leaves a mark when you press it, it is over ripe. It should be orange.

Bottle gourd:  What it does : All gourds have cooling properties and are excellent sources of fibre. It prevents constipation and improves digestion.
How to buy: A good gourd is one that is neither too hard nor too soft. Too soft indicates that it is over ripe. Press your finger into the skin. It should be supple to touch.

Okra (bhindi):  What it does : It does not have a specific health benefit except being rich in a sticky fibre which balances the digestive system.
How to buy: Bend the end tail. If it breaks, it is semi-hard and good to consume. Cucumber: WHAT IT DOES: It is light on the stomach and the best food to treat acidity. It is rich in water content and fibre. How to buy: A good cucumber is the one that looks whole, and is not shrivelled at the ends. It should not be consumed in the evening, as it is cold for the body.

Jackfruit: What it does: Apart from being rich in fibre and vital nutrients, it is rich in Vitamin B Complex and  folic acid.  
How to buy: It can be eaten as a fruit, in which case, it should be yellow in colour. Else, if you plan to cook it as a vegetable, get the vendor to cut it for you, and check for the hardness. It should not be sticky or too soft.

Leafy vegetables (spinach, mint):
What it does:  Leafy greens are a storehouse of high iron content, fibre and calcium. They are great for building stamina and improving immunity.
How to buy: Most leafy vegetables are laden with pesticides. The leaves should be thick, bright green and a little wet. Dry leaves are signs of drying up.

Did you know?
> The heavier the fruit, the juicier it will be. A light fruit indicates it has begun to dry up.
> When you spot a fruit or vegetable which is too bright or looks bigger than its actual size, be sure it has been artificially ripened.
> By eating unripe fruits, you are doing a great disservice to your body.
> A good fruit, even citrus, actually doesn’t cause acidity; it has an alkaline effect on your body.
> The best way to identify whether a fruit is seasonal is to check the cart. If the cart has a big pile of just one vegetable or fruit, it is seasonal produce. When you see little of everything, they are out of season.
> Bell peppers, broccoli, avacado and zucchinis are exotic vegetables available round the year. While they are colourful and tasty to eat, they have almost zero nutrition value, as they are pumped with pesticides and chemicals for artificial ripening.
> The worse practice is eating fruit after your meals. Fruits should be eaten on an empty stomach.

4 questions for Venu Hirani,
Andheri-based Nutritionist & Fitness Consultant

Why is it important to eat seasonal fruits and veggies?
Being a rich source of essential vitamins, minerals, phyto-nutrients and fibre, vegetables and fruits are in their best shape and form during their particular seasons. The colour is rich, taste is better and they are nutritionally dense. Seasonal fruits are also cheaper as no effort has been taken to artificially ripen them.

People believe that fruits like chikoo and banana are fattening.
No fruits are fattening, they may be high in calories but the benefits you derive from them far exceed the calories they add, which is why you need not eliminate any fruits from your diet.

What are summer veggies and how do they benefit us?
Bottle gourd (doodhi), bitter gourd (karela), ridged gourd (tori), snake gourd (chichinda), ash gourd (petha) and wax gourd (padval, parmal), pumpkin (kaddu, sitaphal, kumrha), vaby squash (tinda), ladyfinger (bhindi), cucumber, amaranth greens (chowli) are all summer vegetables. They are high in fibre, cure constipation and reduce cholesterol levels. They are low in calorie and rich in Vitamins A, C, B6, riboflavin and folate, and rich in minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese, which play a vital role in major chemical reactions in the body.

With most fruits and veggies being available round the year, what do you recommend in the summer?
There are certain fruits and vegetables which are seasonal, for example, mango. This fruit is one of the richest sources of Vitamin A, phytonutrients and antioxidants. Everyone should consume this fruit while it is in season. The quantity will obviously vary, based on one’s weight and health issues. 

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