How to Choose the Right Mango for Thai Mango and Coconut Sticky Rice

mango for Thai sweet sticky rice recipe
Southeast and South Asian people are usually gentle and polite — sometimes to the point of being shy and withdrawn — in social situations. But if you put them all together in one place and one happens to make a bad move of claiming the types of mango (banana, coconut, etc.) found in his/her country are superior to those found in the rest of the region, things could get awkward at best and ugly at worst. So even if I do think Thai mangoes are the best, I rarely say that out loud.

Okay, I’m going to remain ducking under the table until you Malaysian, Indonesian, Indian, Filipino readers put away your broomsticks.

This time of year, those in Thailand are starting to see more and more mangoes in the market and I’m here in Chicago totally depressed. The beginning of the mango season in Thailand can only be described as magnificent in the most literal meaning of its Latin etymology. At least, there was excitement to that degree in our family. We love mangoes and durians, as do most other Thai families. The fact that the mango season is closely followed by the durian season only increases the joy ten-folds. It’s like nature’s way of apologizing for turning on the heat and humidity full blast during the months of April and May.

[As a side comment, though I can see why durian is referred to as the king of fruits, whoever took the liberty of crowning mangosteen the queen of fruits has some explaining to do. I just don’t understand why the much, much more delicious mango doesn’t make it into the royal fruity palace.]

In the backyard of the house in which I grew up there were at least five different kinds of mango trees. They started budding and blooming in the colder months of December through mid-February. Then the withered flowers gave way to baby mangoes the size of the tip of your pinkie. At a risk of sounding like a kid who didn’t have a life, one of my favorite things to do was checking on the growth of the mangoes every morning before I left for school. By the time April rolled around, these wee mangoes would have grown into full-sized mangoes, ready for harvest.

My grandmother would snap full-grown, yet green, mangoes right off the branches, one by one, with a bamboo basket attached to the tip of a long pole. For the ones meant to be consumed when green, we would eat them right away. For those meant to be eaten when fully ripe, we would let them ripen, undisturbed, in the basement.

The Thai people are very picky when it comes to mango. (I have previously stepped on some international toes by expressing my shamelessly-bigoted opinion in my post on mango-lime jam). Thailand might be a country that seems to get a new prime minister and cabinet every Tuesday afternoon as we take our time deciding just what kind of democracy we dig the most, but certain things remain static.

Mango rules are one example of things that never change. Though these rules are not written, they’re instinctively followed. Certain types of mango are made to be eaten when they’re green; certain types are made to be eaten when they’re ripe. Certain types of green mango are to be served in paper-thin slices; certain types are to be cut into long spears. Certain types of mango are used exclusively to make mango-based chutneys, relishes, or dipping sauces. We’re a bunch of neurotic mango sticklers, I guess.

The mango rules kick in big time when it comes to choosing the right types of mango to pair with sweet coconut sticky rice. As far as I know, only two types of mangoes are principally used for this very purpose: Ok-Rong and Nam-Dokmai.

Though pairing other types of mango with the coconut sticky rice probably would not result in one being murdered and buried in an unmarked grave, it would most definitely result in the perpetrator being stared down by a mob of miffed Thais. Respectable Thai restaurants in the US always pull this dessert off the menu when good mangoes are out of season. That tells you something.

The closest thing to the aforementioned Ok-Rong and Nam-Dokmai is Manila or Ataulfo mangoes (shown here) which are widely available in the US. They’re light green when green (oh, so helpful …) and dark yellow with a tint of orange when ripe. In stark contrast to the disgusting greenish-reddish mangoes that are available all year round in the US, Ataulfo mangoes have all the characteristics of good eating mangoes: meaty, non-fibrous, fragrant, and very sweet. If you see this type of mango at your local grocery store, by all means, buy them by the case.

The mangoes shown here present an example of what ripe mangoes look like. However, personally, I would let them sit on the kitchen counter for 2-3 more days until the taut skin turns a bit wrinkly. That is when I know they are perfectly ripe and sweet with no trace of tartness left. Only then will they be good enough to pair with the sweet coconut sticky rice. Biting into a piece of tart mango and sweet sticky rice is one of the biggest food bummers of all time, in my opinion.

There are many kinds of mango in the market, but only few are suitable mates for your coconut sticky rice. So, to quote the Grail Knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, choose wisely.

24 Responses to How to Choose the Right Mango for Thai Mango and Coconut Sticky Rice

  1. Arwen from Hoglet K March 17, 2009 at 2:47 am #

    Wow I wish we could grow so many types of mangoes in the backyard in Sydney. My friend has a tree, but he says it normally only gives a few mangoes. It’s only once had a bumper crop. Having a mango for every purpose sounds like heaven!

  2. Zita March 17, 2009 at 4:51 am #

    Love anytype of mangoes, butmy favorite is a ripe but firm, honey mangoes…. you eat your sticky rice with mangoes?? mmmm…we eat it with durian 😉

  3. The Other Tiger March 17, 2009 at 6:34 am #

    I love Manila mangoes…glad to know they’re the good kind! We actually get a variety of mangoes here in Seattle when they come into season, if you know where to look, so I’ve enjoyed trying different types, but those are my favorites.

    I’m looking forward to the sticky rice recipe!

  4. Kelly March 17, 2009 at 2:23 pm #

    I love mango but we only get sad little ones at my local market. I have to go to the organic market or to the fancy-overpriced-market to get good ones.

    Love the changes you have made to the front page. Very pretty!

  5. Joie de vivre March 17, 2009 at 5:21 pm #

    Perhaps the mango could be the prince of fruits?

  6. Irene March 17, 2009 at 8:24 pm #

    Those mangoes look amazing! Seriously, I could not only *buy* mangoes by the case, I could also *eat* them by the case. Especially in a mango-avocado salad. Oh, boy.

  7. doggybloggy March 17, 2009 at 9:34 pm #

    you hsve so many tasty things here, I have quite a bit of catching up to do…

  8. Sapuche March 19, 2009 at 7:47 am #

    I’m a big fan of mango and sweet coconut sticky rice, so I’ll be eagerly awaiting your post on it soon! My feeling is that whenever a particular fruit is in season in Thailand, it’s a magnificent occasion. I’ve never been anywhere that has such amazing fruit. You’re lucky to have grown up in a yard full of mango trees, by the way. Mine only had crabapples… 🙁 Thank you for this entertainingly educational post!

  9. Tangled Noodle March 19, 2009 at 3:04 pm #

    Most of the mangos I see come from Costa Rica or other parts of South America. Still very delicious but different. Thanks for this tutorial!

  10. Rung March 25, 2009 at 2:04 pm #

    Me too I’m crazy about mangos and Thai mangos are best, yes yes. I was back in thailand last month and brought back 52 in my suitcase. And now it’s just Ataulfo… Never thought of trying that with sticky rice, but I think I will for my next dinner party.

  11. Leela March 25, 2009 at 2:26 pm #

    Wow, khun Rung … 52 mangoes! You’re *really* good. 😉

  12. Anonymous February 15, 2010 at 3:47 pm #

    How does one pronounce Ataulfo? I searched the web and could only find a quote from a Mexican mango exporter stating that Americans can’t pronounce it. These are my favorite mango, though admittedly I’ve only tried them and the disgusting kind Leela mentions. My first Mango experience was with an underripe specimen of the disgusting kind, which I thought tasted like a pine tree.

  13. Leela February 15, 2010 at 4:12 pm #

    Anonymous – “… tasted like a pine tree ..” LOL Ataulfo sometimes goes by the name of Manila mangoes much to the chagrin of the Filipinos. Be sure to look for yellow, long-ish ones in Asian or Hispanic stores. Avoid the round greenish.reddish ones that turn orange/red when ripe.

  14. candace May 27, 2010 at 1:24 am #

    Thank you so much to everyone that commented on this post, I’ve learned so much frm yall, especially frm the original post. I like mango with sticky rice but my caucasian boyfriend LOVES them !! I tried to make it at home but could never make it right (we just can’t seems to find a good sweet mangoes). Now I definitely know what to look for next time when I pick mangoes for making sticky rice.

  15. Anonymous July 19, 2012 at 1:06 am #

    I have a mango tree (Los Angeles) and this year looks like it will produce many mangoes of the type you pictured above. I’m reluctant to pick while they’re still green – shouldn’t I wait until they ripen on the tree? If I pick them green how should they be stored?

  16. Admin July 25, 2012 at 12:35 am #

    Anon – I wouldn’t let them ripen on the tree. I’d pick them when they’re fully mature, but still green and hard. Then I’d arrange them in a single layer, cover them with a towel, and leave them in a warm place to ripen.

  17. Leyono May 19, 2013 at 11:22 pm #

    Hi, i am from nothern part of Malaysia, which is just a ‘river’ away from Thailand and yes, Thai do have the most delicious mangoes of all, in my opinion. i am so crazy about mangoes and i could definitely relate to your story. but we do not have mango trees in our backward, but i plan to plant a few when i got my own house later !

    btw, your page is really amazing. thumbs up.

  18. Danielle August 7, 2013 at 7:20 am #

    I’ve read your blog for some time and and you are by far on my top 3 go to blogs for recipes. My favorite dessert in the whole world is mango and sticky rice despite my severe lack of asian genetics. So of course being a person who prides myself on making everything from scratch, the fact that I cannot master this dish leaves me in tears. No matter what I do I cannot find a good mango to save my life. I have of course encountered them throughout the years by complete accident, but to find one that is ripe or even let one ripen a few days before use defeats me every time. I recently found Ataulfo mangos at the grocery and I bought them right up, but to my dismay even after letting them ripen for a few days (they were most certainly not ripe when I bought them) ; as soon as I began to peel the flesh away they were brown !! If there is any advice you can offer please!

    Admiringly, Danielle :p

    • Leela August 7, 2013 at 10:31 am #

      Danielle – How kind are your words. Thank you.

      Regarding the mangoes, in my experience, the best and the most reliable (as in nearly 0% defect) mangoes are the large golden variety (I’ve been getting conflicting information as to whether it’s the same as Ataulfo albeit larger) sold by the case at well-stocked markets specializing in Southeast Asian ingredients. Seek out a spot in your hometown that has a cluster of Thai, Vietnamese, Lao, Chinese stores or restaurants and chances are there is a great grocery store in that area. You can find these awesome mangoes during May-July. They’re pretty rare outside this window.

      They look like this. I bought this case of 12 at $15.

      If you really can’t find a good mango, make a concentrated syrup. Heat 2 part white granulated sugar : 1 part water in a saucepan just until the sugar dissolves. Cool. Peel and cut a mango as usual. Coat it lightly with the syrup. Serve with the prepared sticky rice. No way is this better or as good as a ripe, sweet mango, but it will do in a pinch.

      • Danielle August 12, 2013 at 6:35 pm #

        Thank you! I will have to try the syrup method and see how it turns out. Unfortunately our nearest Asian type market is a two hour drive from here. I will of course be going there to stock up my pantry when it gets low, but mangoes alone are not enough of a reason :(. I will probably have to suck it up and wait for them to come back into season like everyone else does *sigh*. Thank you again for the advice!


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