How to Perfect Mango Sticky Rice at Home
Fish Cheeks shares its recipe for Thailand’s national dessert.
If you’re a regular at the Thai restaurant down the street from your house, you have likely tried mango sticky rice, or khao niao mamuang. Simple in appearance but complex and delicious in taste, khao niao mamuang is actually Thailand’s national dessert.
Growing up a Thai-American, eating this dessert always made me feel a little more connected to my heritage. It’s also the perfect mix of complementary textures and flavors, with the sweet, ripe mango adding a juicy fruitiness to coconut milk-soaked sticky rice, and crispy mung beans or toasted sesame seeds sprinkled on top to provide just a bit of crunch.
In Thailand, mango sticky rice just makes sense. The lives of Thais have been so intrinsically bound to rice, or khao, since ancient times. Besides eating it at practically every meal, Thais believe in the goddess of rice, Mae Phosop, who guards rice crops and helps them to flourish.
What defines khao niao mamuang
Though there are practically endless varieties of rice, khao niao is a glutinous rice that is sticky to the touch, and a staple food in northeast Thailand. As a child, I would drive my parents mad by rolling my sticky rice into balls like a snowman, since they’re very malleable and shapeable.
“I always loved the texture and the flavor,” shares Chef Intu-on Kornnawong, who just opened the highly anticipated Jo’s Modern Thai in Oakland, California, following his time as a chef at the Michelin-starred Kin Khao. “In the Isaan region, where I grew up, they believe that eating sticky rice gives you the energy to help make you work hard. In my little hometown, we also have a really nice mango sticky rice shop—it was so, so good and made me love it, so I learned how to make it from my grandma. She made the best coconut sticky rice.”
Coconut milk is also an integral part of nearly any dessert eaten in Thailand, drizzled over fruit, or integrated with rice into glutinous cakes that are wrapped in banana or lotus leaves. The coconut milk is really what brings all the elements of khao niao mamuang together, adding a creamy sweetness that rounds out the dish.
As far as the mango goes, you can find it all year long in Thailand, though the optimal months for eating it there are in the spring to early summer. Luckily, in the States, you can also find mango pretty much all year round in most places. The most popular variety in Thailand, and generally, is the “nam dok mai” mango, which is typically sweet and juicy when consumed at peak ripeness.
Where to find the iconic Thai dish
In Thailand, you can find variations of khao niao mamuang everywhere, from fancy restaurants that might serve it with the thinnest sliced mango or black rice, to street vendors quickly chopping up the fresh fruit in front of you and serving it in a small plastic bag.
Restaurants in the U.S. are also serving up a tremendous variety of the simple dessert, like the Dee Dee Thai food trailer in Austin, Texas, where chef Lakana Sopajan-Trubiana drizzles an ample amount of coconut milk over thickly cut mango and a mound of khao niao and serves it in a brown paper vessel. Supposedly the chef named her dog after the mango fruit because of how much she loves it.
In Los Angeles, home to the largest Thai population in the U.S., you can even get mango sticky rice ice cream, thanks to Wanderlust Creamery, where coconut ice cream is swirled with mango. Angelenos can also head to Chiang Mai Thai Kitchen, named after the region of the same name in Northern Thailand, where they color their sticky rice with butterfly pea tea to give it an indigo tint. Coconut cream is drizzled over the dessert, then sliced strawberries and toasted mung beans are added on top.
There are tons of places to try quality mango sticky rice in the Bay Area, too, where Jo’s Modern Thai just opened in July. There, Kornnawong serves his with sweet wild riceberry, coconut cream, and fried mung beans. It isn’t just a staple of Thai cuisine now, either, as demonstrated by restaurants like Lao Table in San Francisco, where they serve mango sticky rice with a heaping side of mango-drizzled shaved ice.
In New York City, LOOK Thai by Plant Love House in Brooklyn serves up a customer favorite mango sticky rice with sesame seeds, trendy Thai Diner in Nolita uses champagne mangos and crispy mung beans for its version, and renowned seafood-focused Fish Cheeks on Bond Street utilizes jasmine rice.
How to make mango sticky rice at home
One of the many great things about mango sticky rice is that it’s not even necessary for you to visit a restaurant to enjoy it—you can prepare it right in your own kitchen. Once you add khao niao mamuang into your regular dessert rotation, you can also fine tune it to your own taste, and even get creative with toppings. Like your sticky rice to be drowning in coconut milk sauce, or prefer toasted sesame seeds to mung beans? You can absolutely make that happen for yourself.
The first step is waiting to cut into your mango until it is at an intense ripeness. Those who bake with bananas will know why. You’ll want to get close to the point of overripeness, which will ensure that your mango isn’t hard, and optimally sweet.
For extra flavor in your coconut sauce, Chef Kornnawong suggests using a high quality brand of coconut cream (his favorite is Aroy D) and a palm sugar syrup in replacement of regular white sugar. For an authentic cooking experience, the chef says you can also stop by any Asian supermarket to purchase a bamboo rice basket, which will help you steam your rice to perfection.
Fish Cheek’s Khao Niao Mamuang Recipe
- 18 grams sticky rice
- 40 grams coconut cream
- 37 grams sugar
- Pinch of salt
- A handful of yellow mung beans
1. Using medium low heat, warm up coconut cream in a small saucepan on the stove. Add sugar and salt, and whisk it until the sugar and salt are well integrated.
2. Place a wok or frying pan on the stove on low heat. Add your desired amount of mung beans and dry fry them, stirring continuously until they turn golden and crispy.
3. Wash the uncooked sticky rice until the water is clear.
4. Soak the rice at room temperature with twice the amount of water overnight.
5. The next day, drain the water and set up a double boiler system, or use a traditional Thai sticky rice steamer.
6. Steam until the rice is cooked all the way through, but not mushy. About 15 minutes.
7. Slowly fold the coconut syrup into the rice until it absorbs and cools down. Keep on folding!
8. Serve immediately with ripe mango, and top with extra coconut syrup and mung beans.