I first tasted this dish – known as Khao Niaow Ma Muang – in Kanchanaburi, a city in Thailand notable for its Bridge on the river Kwai, otherwise known as the Death Railway. Despite its murky past, where during World War II the Japanese forced Allied prisoners to build a railway from Thailand to Burma, the city is now very quaint: scenic river views, internet cafes, outdoor night markets and elephants that will pose for food or money.
It is most likely in Kanchanaburi that Sonia contracted Dengue Fever, though she wouldn’t know about it until a few days later once we had already left town. The mosquitos there were kamikaze-crazy and they marauded through the humid streets in thick swarms with an electric, infuriating hum. Oblivious to the impending “break bone fever” that was to come, Sonia and I both dined at a restaurant that resembled a tiki jungle hut, where our guidebook recommended mango and sticky rice for dessert. Before then, I had never conceived of rice being eaten with mangos – and certainly not as a dessert. I haven’t tasted it again in a restaurant since returning home, though looking through photos of the trip recently a Pavlovian response ensued, which left me salivating and craving the sweet and salty sticky rice with a side of cool, freshly sliced mango. Enjoy!
1 ¼ cup Glutinous or Sticky Rice (regular rice won’t work properly)
For the coconut syrup:
¾ cup coconut milk
¼ cup white granulated sugar
2 tbsp brown sugar
½ tsp salt
For the coconut sauce:
¾ cup coconut milk
1 tbsp of flour (mixed with 1 tsp water)
1 tbsp granulated sugar
¼ tsp salt
- Add the rice in a large bowl filled with cold water and rub the grains between the hands to remove the excess starch. The water should become milky white. Drain the water, then refill again with cold water and repeat. This may take 4 or 5 times until the water is no longer milky. Fill one last time with water and let the rice soak for 2 hours, though at the very least for 1 hour if you’re rushed. This will create very plump grains of rice.
2. After a good soak, the rice will need to be steamed. I have a metal, non electric steamer that I use (it resembles a fine strainer), which I place above a boiling pot of water. Make sure the rice doesn’t touch the water at all or it will become soggy. Steaming rice this way will normally take a good 20 minutes. If you own an electric rice steamer, place a porous material, such as a dish cloth or cheese cloth, along the bottom of the steaming tray and place the rice in, then steam. Steam for 20-30 minutes or until the rice becomes chewy but not overcooked. Steaming times will vary depending on method.
3. For the sweet coconut syrup, mix together ¾ cup coconut milk with the sugars and ½ tsp salt. In a medium saucepan, heat this just until the sugar dissolves – about 3 or 4 minutes. Don’t boil.
4. Once the syrup is dissolved, pour this over the fully steamed rice in a separate boil. With a spoon or your hands, break apart any lumps of rice and coat all of the rice well with the syrup. Cover the bowl with aluminum foil and keep somewhere hot like a warm oven for 15-20 minutes while the rice soaks.
5. While the rice is soaking up the delicious coconut syrup, start peeling your mangos. On a cutting board, with a sharp paring knife, carefully peel fresh mangoes. You’ll want to do a fairly good job because if you peel them in a jagged manner (like I did on my first attempt), it will show afterwards when you slice the fruit – this is easier said than done. Once peeled, cut down along the seed in a lengthwise motion, cutting the mango in half.
6. Once you’re left with the half slices, slice the mango cross wise, starting from the shortest ends, so that you have 8-12 short slices per half.
7. For the coconut sauce that you’ll soon be pouring on the finished rice product, first add 1 tbsp flour (for thickening) to 1 tsp of water, then stir together before adding this to ¾ cup of coconut milk, sugar and ¼ tsp salt, then stir. I add the flour to the water first, because it helps dissolve the flour better; otherwise the flour will become lumpy if adding directly to the coconut milk. Cook this mixture in a saucepan on low to medium heat, stirring constantly to ensure the flour doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat just before it boils – less than 6 minutes.
8. Time to serve. Transport your sliced mangos to the serving dish, using the blade of a large knife to keep the pieces intact. Then spread the mango pieces out onto the plate in any shape you’d like. I spread them out diagonally and thought it looked pretty good. As you can see in the picture below I was a little messy during the peeling stage – and it shows – so I just cleaned the shredded pieces of mango with a knife once on the plate.
9. Place a ladleful of sticky rice soaked in coconut syrup onto the plate next to the sliced mango and then drizzle the rice generously with the additional coconut sauce. Serve warm.