Matthew and I were sitting in a small, roof-top restaurant somewhere in Bangkok. Only a few hours remained before a 3 am flight would set me on a 30 hour path back to the Midwest. We had been eating and talking for more than an hour, a proper Thai meal to send me on my way. He had previously suggested we stop at a British pub for a second meat and kidney pie for the day. I told Matthew, “If you think my last two meals in Thailand are going to be British meat pies, you are sadly mistaken. I’d like one last authentic Thai meal.”
Sometimes I forget that he lived in Bangkok for 18 years, and perhaps to him a kidney pie in Bangkok was more exotic. Or he missed a taste of home. Or was just a creature of habit and wanted a meat pie.
Our last meeting had been in a modern office building downtown, followed by a wrap up meeting in the ground level Starbucks. We left the building and began walking in the general direction of our hotel. I wondered what was going through his mind, having lived there for so long. How many times had he walked this street? I was playing Pokemon Go, collecting exotic electronic treasures.
We stopped at a stand, and Matthew ordered dry noodles for both of us. Sitting down, I enjoyed the bowl and appreciated the authentic food. I was informed this was just a snack before the main meal.
Welcome to Thailand.
We kept walking, suddenly turning down a side-street. A few blocks in, up a flight of stairs we sat at a table. We ate dish after dish. We talked, laughed, and reflected on the past 10 days. The music playlist for the restaurant looped through a few times, with a mix of American country, rock, folk, and other songs from across the globe.
I thought I couldn’t eat another bite, when a plate of mango sticky rice arrived.
I’d heard of it before, never ordered or felt compelled to try it.
I had been missing out. If you’ve ever eaten a really good mango, you know when you find one. They are sweet and slightly firm, with a somewhat leathery, fibrous texture. When you take a bite the flavor and aroma occupy every bit of space in your mouth. I’ve eaten many wonderful mangoes in my day. But never combined with sticky rice. In fact, come to think of it, I’d never eaten sticky rice either. This came as a surprise to me considering the amount of rice I’ve consumed having lived in the Dominican Republic.
Hold that thought, I HAVE EATEN STICKY RICE! My friend Jemima has brought it to a few of the International Potlucks and I loved it! In that context we ate it plain with a few dipping sauces.
Sticky rice takes on an almost gelatinous form. You can still identify and taste the individual grains of rice, but they form a stretchy, sticky patty that almost needs two utensils to separate. This patty is topped with mung beans that add a bit of crunch and balance to the rest of the dish.
Where did this goodness come from?
Mango sticky rice is a traditional Thai dish. It is seasonal, usually eaten in peak mango season.
Pause for a moment – I can’t think of many phrases that make me happier than “Peak mango” – ok, back to the story!
Mango sticky rice is a mixture of glutinous rice (not to worry gluten-free friends, this rice is gluten free!), coconut milk, palm sugar, mango, and salt. I haven’t made it at home although I plan on trying soon! For a potential recipe, I’d recommend checking this one out:
Sticky rice is a staple for diets across Asia, HuffPo has a great article with 9 things you should know about sticky rice. (Go on, check it out!)
Cravings across the globe
Yesterday I had a craving for sticky rice with mango. Living in Fargo, I thought my options were limited and that I perhaps wouldn’t be able to satiate this desire. Remembering the Leela Thai has a pretty good menu, I asked my good friend Google if Leela was down with the sticky rice. Turns out it was true. I brought my wife there for a wonderful Thai meal, ending with a dish of, you guessed it, sticky rice with mango.
Sitting on the opposite side of the globe, in an unassuming strip-mall in Fargo I once again crossed paths with this simple but beautiful dish. And it was every bit as wonderful as I’d remembered it in Bangkok.