Rays of sun on a bed of rice

By Amber Williams

There is something about Asian foods that just feels guilt-free. Even at dessert. Somehow a meal can be hearty enough, loaded with flavors and food groups and yet still convince the stomach to make just enough room for the third course. For dessert, we travel to Thailand in the form of King and I.

Sticky rice with mango is a traditional Thai recipe served at King and I.

Sticky rice with mango is a traditional Thai recipe served at King and I.

“All my food my own recipe,” explains King and I owner and chef Ormsin “Mao” Heineman. That means they are true Thai recipes that are still enjoyed by locals and tourists along the streets of Bangkok, where street vendor foods have been recognized as the best in the world, according to several travel and food writers worldwide.

In the case of dessert, it’s sweet to keep things simple — and vice versa. And, as it often does in Thai creations, the sweet spot every chef is coveting is usually found overhead, growing in the palms of Thailand’s tropical fruit trees. In this case, there are two: the mango and the coconut, an unsuspected pairing if you ask many Westerners. The more common fruit to accompany coconut are pineapple or banana, thanks to Jimmy Buffet, perhaps. But the mango offers two key things the others don’t — zing, both in the mouth and on the eyes.

“Thailand have 20 to 50 different mango,” Heineman says. “Some are sweet, and some are better to pickle. Mango here (in America) is so-so, but you go to Thailand and it’s different — so sweet.”

Sliced and draped along a hefty dollop of sticky rice, the mango gleams like a side of sunshine in a way that begs the consumer to pick up a spoon — which glides through the fruit as easy as cutting melted butter. As natural as it is to eat, one is sure it doesn’t reach the mouth without the added accompaniment of the sticky rice. Without thinking, it’s obvious the two different textures, contrasting colors and complementing flavors must meet in each spoonful and be experienced with each bite together.

The definitive clumpyness of the white rice is calmed by the creamy addition of coconut milk, Thailand’s cherubic alternative to dairy. When dining with a date, this dessert is best served with one plate and two spoons — a shared experience of tropical joy. RELISH

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