Pulp fiction: when mango meets sticky rice

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Parents are always willing to shower more love than what their children can reciprocate, and giving khaao niaow (sticky rice) is one of the myriad ways Mr. P’s parents show their concern. Before our recent trip back to Mr. P’s hometown in Udon Thani, we asked the parents to source some sticky rice grains for us, suggesting that about one kilogram would do, but instead they prepared a 10-kilogram sack for us. We had to insist on leaving half the grains with them because 10 kilograms would probably take us more than a year to finish since we don’t eat sticky rice for every meal.

We brought home the five-kilogram sack, and I’ve since been looking for ways to polish off the sticky rice grains. Enter mangoes, the perfect nuea khuu, or soulmate, for sticky rice when it comes to the dessert department. But not just any mangoes will do for khaao niao mamaung (ข้าวเหนียวมะม่วง), or mango sticky rice; ideally it has to be mamuang naam dorkmai (มะม่วงน้ำดอกไม้), a cultivar with a slender, creamy-yellow body whose flesh yields a sweet, fragrant taste. (Here’s a good overview of mango cultivars in Thailand.)

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But if mangoes are like wives to sticky rice for desserts, then durians must be the mistresses. As it all boils down to preferences, some would say mistresses are better than wives durians complement sticky rice better. I like both versions, but sticky rice, coconut milk and durian make quite a ‘heaty’ and calorie-laden combination, so it’s best not to indulge in this trio together too often.

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And here I’d like to share an anecdote in which yours truly showed her silliness. One day, just hours before I was supposed to board my flight to Singapore, I traipsed to my neighbhourhood fruit stall with the intention to buy some mangoes. I reached the store and saw a batch of mangoes wrapped in foam netting neatly placed together. Holding up one yellow fruit, I pulled away its wrapping slightly.

“These mangoes look a bit different, without the usual pointy end,” I thought to myself. “Hmm, maybe they aren’t the naam dorkmai varieties. But beggars can’t be choosers. I don’t have time to hunt for mangoes to bring with me to Singapore to make khaao niao mamuang for the folks.” And so I bought two mangoes.

As I walked home, I started pondering about these fruits again. Something didn’t feel quite right, but I couldn’t put a finger to it. Once I reached home, I snapped a quick shot of the fruits and sent it to Mr. P. He replied, “Thais don’t eat such mangoes with sticky rice.”

“So that’s why!” I thought to myself, abandoning all thoughts of taking the 1.5-kilogramme load with me to Singapore. After all, YC told me that Taiwanese mangoes were available in supermarkets in Singapore, so I could also use other cultivars to make the dessert for my folks. Hence, I left the mangoes at home for Mr. P to eat while I was away.

Later that evening when Mr. P got home and I was already at the airport to catch my flight, he sent me a photo of the sliced mangoes. The flesh was a deep orange and a core filled with round black seeds covered with a jelly-like coating, so my mangoes were actually papayas. Doh!

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On a less silly note, the recent interest in mangoes has added to my experience in the kitchen too. Mr. P showed me the proper way to de-skin and slice a mango. “Use common sense and experience to guide yourself. Don’t believe the instructions others dispense on their blogs!” he remarked. So there you go, read everything (including this blog) with a pinch of salt and endeavour to try everything on your own.

[Brief instructions on how to slice a mango] 1. With the mango firmly in your hand, peel the skin off the top cheek. 2. Make lengthwise (or criss-cross) cuts of about one inch thick, then insert the knife from the side and slice around the stone in the middle. 3. Flip the remaining mango around; repeat steps 1 and 2.

For the best effect, chill mangoes after cutting, only taking them out of the fridge when you’re ready to serve with sticky rice. Heavenly!

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