Wednesday, May 25, 2005


My obsession with fruit is deep rooted: many fond childhood memories of mine feature a host of tropical fruits as main characters. From plucking and smushing tiny kumquats swiped from my mother’s kumquat tree to streaking all my clothing purple with mangosteen rinds, its clear that not all my encounters with fruit were epicurean, though I enjoyed them all immensely.

Unlike most people I know, I can actually associate fruits with a range of emotions that covers everything from love to sadness. Fragrant pears will always make me feel warm and fuzzy inside when I think of my mother stewing them in sugar for me when I was little, and every time I see cherries, I’m reminded of Tony, our old fruit deliveryman, coming up the elevator with a box of fruit for my parents and a bag of shiny red cherries just for me. Pomelos are reminiscent of the Mooncake Festival, when dinner was eaten picnic style on the floor of our living room with mooncakes and pomelos passed around for dessert, and eating just one Concord grape makes me think of my Grand-Aunt Ah-Poh, and all the time I spent sitting outside her hospital room trying to while away the hours by sucking the grape meat out of their skins. And the list goes on.

Somewhere down the line of emotions, there is fear. Not the I’m-in-mortal-danger kind of fear; more like the feeling you get when a cockroach runs up towards your feet. That mixture of disgust, fear and squeamishness is exactly what I feel whenever I come too close to a whole mango. Sliced mangos pose no threat to my sanity whatsoever, and mango smoothies are my drink of choice whenever they are available, but whole mangos – especially those fresh off a tree – make my toes curl.

This mild psychosis of mine can be traced back to a very innocent activity: picking mangos off my Aunt Meg’s mango tree in her front yard. She had just moved into that new house and –what good timing! – my mother and I had decided to visit just when the mangos on her tree had started to ripen. While Aunt Meg bustled in the kitchen cooking dinner, we stripped the tree of every plump, fragrant, sap-coated mango we could reach, pausing every now and then to happily squeeze and sniff our bounty. The mangos were supposed to be for dessert, but being impatient, my mother and I started into one the second we got inside. Though we noticed some imperfections after she had sliced the skin off, my mother dismissed them as surface blemishes and proffered me a chunk of the fruit, taking a big bite of a piece herself. The mango was decent in taste, but grainy in texture. We looked at each other, puzzled, before looking down at the mango my mother had just carved up…in our haste to devour the mango, we had failed to notice that the whole fruit was riddled with worms! At that point, I’m pretty sure I either paled significantly or turned what my mother (who is definitely made of sterner stuff than I) likes to call ‘green around the gills’, because I remember her laughing at my pained expression and telling me to “relax”, because “worms are a great source of protein”. Gee, thanks mom.

Where I once used to peel mangos and eat them as one would an apple, I now insist on thinly slicing every mango that falls into my possession, much to A.’s bemusement. Don’t call the funny farm just yet: this quirk does benefit me in some cases, like when I’m plating Thai Mango Sticky Rice and trying to make it look pretty. If I needed a reason to overcome my mangophobia, this rich dessert would probably be it.

Thai Sticky Rice and Mango
(Khao Nieow Ma Muang)
1 1/4 cups raw sticky rice
3/4 cup very thick ccoconut cream
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup very thick coconut cream (freeze the remainder for later use)
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp salt
6 medium mangoes -- peeled and sliced
Wash and rinse the sticky rice well. Add enough water to the rice so until the water is about 1/4" above the rice surface. Cook rice in an automatic rice cooker or in a bowl in a steamer. Do not open disturb the rice until fully cooked (about 20-25 mins).
Heat, on low, 3/4 cup coconut cream in a small saucepan. Add sugar and 1/2 tbsp salt to the cream and cook until dissolved. Remove from heat and pour into cooked rice. Stir to mix well and set aside to let stand for about 15 mins.
For the topping: Heat the rest of coconut cream and add salt. Stir until the salt is dissolved.
To serve, place sliced mangoes with some sticky rice on a plate. Top the rice with 1 or 2 tsp of coconut sauce and serve.
Makes about 6 servings.