When my dad went to Thailand, he came back obsessed. Not quite as obsessed as he is over creating unique and delicious bread recipes, but still a little single-minded.
He had discovered mango sticky rice, you see. A sweet, coconut milk-soaked confection topped with slices of fresh mango and served in a banana leaf by street vendors all around Thailand. He returned convinced that it shouldn’t be a difficult thing to make at home.
Turns out, these were the days before fragrant basmati and jasmine rices were widely available to home cooks – especially if said home cooks lived in rural Manitoba. Don’t even ask me how he got his hands on a mango as he created and re-created multiple versions of the dish that were never quite right.
Ten years later or so, my plane touched down in Bangkok and I knew I had a mission. Effortlessly slinging my eight hundred pound backpack and a duffel full of scuba gear over my shoulder, I hailed a cab to take me to Khao San Road, were I would be staying. Note: this is a little bit of a white lie. It being my first solo trip to a country that was not Australia or New Zealand, I was quite terrified and actually spent about two hours in arrivals sitting on said backpack trying to work up the nerve to hail a cab.
I tried not to be distracted by the street vendors selling piping hot, peanutty piles of pad thai or the uber-cheap knockoff Birkenstocks or the Thai fisherman pants which would inevitably always look cooler on the rail-thin, dreadlock sporting expats than they would on me. I headed out immediately in search of mango sticky rice.
In my experience, this little delicacy actually wasn’t available on every street corner. It took me about 3.5 seconds to become hopelessly lost on the streets of Bangkok, my journey punctuated occasionally by a McDonald’s siting (they have McDonald’s here?), the wonder of a looming gold-flecked, jewel-toned temple, or the chaos of a market where, under makeshift blue tarp awnings I noted that I would need to return to buy my first real camera (an old Canon AE-1 with mysterious origins) and, of course, all six seasons of Sex and the City (also with mysterious origins).
Finally, I found her. On the side of the road, unassuming and isolated from other market vendors, a tiny woman spooning coconut rice into plastic bags and slicing mango. She expertly tied up a bag of rice, sweet coconut milk sauce and mango with an elastic band in exchange for my baht.
How can I describe the taste, the gratitude that spilled forth as I tasted each tender grain of rice, as my teeth burst into ethereally sweet mango? I suppose only that it was worth waiting ten years for, that I could quickly relate to my dad’s obsession, and that I was inordinately disappointed that I had no idea where I was and how I might return to this vendor every day for the remainder of my stay in Bangkok.
I did return: something I remember well about my time in Bangkok were the blisters I got from my newly acquired fake Birkenstocks as I walked for hours around the city nearly every day, completely lost, until I found mango sticky rice once more.
Of course I, being my father’s daughter, also tried to recreate this beautiful confection at home. I’ve seen lots of different ways to make this, but to me, this is the simplest.
- 1 can coconut milk
- 1/2 cup uncooked jasmine or basmati rice
- 1/8 cup sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1 mango
- Chopped peanuts to top (optional)
- Place the coconut milk, rice, sugar and vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer until the rice is fully cooked. If you like your rice pudding to have an even stickier, softer texture, you may want to add in a bit of extra milk and cook the rice even longer.
- Allow to cool slightly and serve topped with slices of fresh mango and chopped peanuts, if desired.