Thursday, May 17, 2012

Staying at Al's Resort & a recipe for Thai Mango with Coconut Sticky Rice!

Thailand is one of those countries that I can't stop coming back to. I've traveled to many countries all over South East Asia, but Thailand always pulls me back in.

What is it? If I had to put words to a feeling, I would say the hospitality and the food! (the FOOD!)

This month I had the pleasure of staying at Al's Resort on the Island of Koh Samui, which is one of the larger islands in the Gulf of Mexico on the west side. Al's Resort is located on the popular Chaweng Beach, one of the longer beaches on this island.

Upon arrival we were pleasantly greeted at reception and promptly led to our room.

We stayed in one of the courtyard rooms which is surrounded by lush green grass. Each room has its own private patio which steps out onto the courtyard that is maintained very well. We even had a small pool right in our courtyard, which meant we could step out early in the morning for a quick, private sunrise swim!

Thanks to the kind staff for the nice touch in towel art!

Al's Resort has a beautiful infinity pool that looks right out onto the beach and is kept impecably clean. Most times my husband and I were the only ones in the pool which made for the most relaxing evening swims. We enjoyed a few cocktails at the swim up bar before getting ready for dinner.

The pool was so clean and clear that I feel like we spent more time in there, leaning over the edge and gazing onto the beach than actually laying out on the sand. But, of course we got there and enjoyed the beach as much as we could.

The beach area surrounding the resort was very clean and the sand so soft. It wouldn't be a beach day without a Thai beer or two, and you can debate for yourself if Tiger or Chang is better. I won't go there!

Things to do in Koh Samui

Koh Samui has a lot to offer, and being a big island it is best to hire a car or rent a motorbike for the day (typically between 200-250 THB). You can easily fill up 3 or 4 days with activities and we did just that.

Na Muang waterfalls is a spectacular rock face that glistens in different colours as the water rushes off. Depending on the time of year that you visit (rainy season vs. dry season) you will see gushing water or delicate streams - either way is beautiful. The most rewarding is taking a dip in the cool water beneath after you've come from what is likely a sweaty motorbike ride!

There are many striking and vibrant temples to visit around the island.

We visited the pagoda and big Buddha.

We organized our next day of activities through Al's Resort who helped us book a boat tour to visit several small islands via speed boat. We spent the day swimming in crystal clear waters, walking through the jungle, snorkeling and enjoying a delicious lunch of massaman curry and fresh fruit on the beach.

The evenings at the resort are very peaceful. They do not blast music here, that happens further along the beach which was perfect for us. We just laid out to stare at the stars and watch lanterns light up into the sky. I would recommend this resort for couples or families with children. 

Since our main passion is exploring culture through food, we only eat local cuisine. Thai food is incredible, and we mixed eating at the restaurant in the resort with meals from the outside markets.

At the resort we enjoyed an incredible pad thai wrapped in omelette! I adore this version and it can be hard to come by. They basically pour a very thin layer of beaten egg into the wok and swirl it around like a crepe. Then they place the pad thai into the center and wrap it up. This time I ordered it with "sen mee" which are the thinner noodles. It was absolutely delicious.

Another night we ordered steamed fish which arrives to your table piping hot over fire. It was beautiful and fragrant with heaps of ginger, garlic, chili and coriander. You cannot visit an island without enjoying freshly caught fish, so don't miss out on this one!

During our last few days we explored the local markets. The vibrant and colourful produce makes me miss my kitchen when I travel! The stunning curry pastes are always made fresh and piled high with their red, orange and green hues jumping out at you.

Since you probably can't resist (and you shouldn't) stop and have lunch at the market. You will not be disappointed.

In Koh Samui, noodle soup is a popular dish and they are packed with flavour. There are notes of star anise and cinnamon, fried shallots, lime and heaps of cilantro. It is so satisfying you might need to order two just so you don't forget how great it is!

A staple of Thai cuisine is fresh coconut milk to make their array of curries, and by fresh I mean super fresh! You can see it being grated all throughout the day. To make milk or cream, the fresh coconut is soaked in boiling water and then squeezed to extract all of the rich coconut fat.

One of my favourite dishes that benefits from this rich coconut cream is Mango with Sticky Rice - sweet sticky rice steamed until perfection and soaked in sweet and salty coconut milk until it absorbs it through and through. It is served with freshly sliced mango and extra coconut cream. You will drool and since I want you to taste this too, you can make it at home with the recipe to follow!

I don't even know if I can explain in words how incredible this dish is that I'm presenting to you today.

Really. I fear that no matter what I say, all you will see is rice and a mango. This is the most incredible thing ever and I learned how to make it during a cooking course in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand from a lovely Thai lady named Nancy.

This rice is steamed to chewy perfection and then soaked in a sweet and salty thick coconut cream. Can you wrap your head around it?

Salt is key. Salt and coconut is insanity. So freakin' good. And then there's palm sugar which is made from the sap of coconut palm trees. It is ridiculous. It has an almost tangy acidity to it and the closest substitute I can think of is honey. But please... seek out palm sugar. You can find it at Asian grocery stores and it is sold in hard puck form. It has a light brown colour. You will be happy you did.

I remember the first time I tried this and I swear I saw stars. It is just so simple but so spectacular. I think that's what makes it great - you would never think it could carry that much flavour.

First the sticky rice needs to be soaked in water overnight. You'll notice that the grains will be translucent when they are ready. This lets them take in some water so that they steam evenly.

Sticky rice (or glutinous rice) is not the same rice that the Japanese use to make sushi. It is not going to be too sticky and as wet as sushi rice. No. This rice will be so individual and unique.

That's because we're steaming it. Steaming the rice is such a cool method. It makes every grain cook individually so that they are distinct but not sticky on their surfaces. They look beautiful like this.

This is the tricky part. Do not over cook the rice! You will still need to soak it in warm coconut milk so it will continue to cook. If it is over-steamed, it will be mushy so just watch it carefully. Twenty minutes should do the trick.
You can make your own steamer at home like this. Just fill a pot with about and inch of water and put your rice in a sieve over the pot. Now put the lid on, bring the water to a boil and steam away.

In the meantime, heat the coconut milk, palm sugar and a generous amount of salt in a saucepan. Let it come to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for just a minute or two. Don't reduce it too much or the coconut milk will separate.

Now add the steamed rice, remove from the heat, cover and let stand for 10 minutes. During this time the rice will soak up all of that outstanding sweet, tangy and salt coconut cream. Wow. I wish I could be rice right now.

Another HUGELY important thing is to have the most perfectly ripe, sweet Ataulfo mangoes. These are the kidney shaped ones - not the red and green mangoes from Mexico. These Ataulfos are much silkier and far less stringy or fibrous.

You know they're ripe when they are gorgeously orange all around, their skin is just slightly wrinkly and they give quite a bit when you press on it.

Oh! Make sure you put some aside for pouring on top. That's the best.

That's it. You've done it. This will change you.

Mango with Coconut Sticky Rice 
Makes about 4 servings

1 cup sticky rice
1 1/3 cups coconut milk
1 oz coconut palm sugar
1 ½ - 2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp (25g) granulated sugar
¼ tsp plus 1/8 tsp coarse sea salt, plus extra to taste
2 ripe Ataulfo mangos, peeled, removed from the pit and sliced

Rinse the sticky rice several times and then soak rice overnight in cold water, about 8-10 hours. Rinse and steam until translucent and cooked through. It will be firm and chewy but not mushy. This will take about 20 minutes. Do not over-cook it at this point because it will continue to cook once you add it to the hot coconut milk mixture.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine coconut milk, palm sugar, honey, granulated sugar and salt in Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Reserve a couple of tablespoons to serve as a sauce for later.

Remove the pan from the heat, add the steamed rice and stir gently just to combine. Set the pan aside and let stand for 10 minutes without stirring. The rice will absorb the coconut milk as it sits. Again, do not stir or it will get mushy. Serve with sliced ripe mango, extra coconut milk sauce and coarse sea salt for sprinkling.

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  1. Oh wow I love everything about this dish, sounds amazing!! If only I was in your kitchen right now! :)

  2. This is quite possibly a really dumb question (my teacher used to say there are no dumb questions, but I know she was lying) but I have to ask because I am so lame at cooking rice. I don't know why but I never get it right. So if I wanted to steam rice for a savory dish, could I do it the same way you describe? (Up until adding the coconut milk etc., I mean.) Or would the texture be too bizarre?

    So cool that you're in Thailand, btw! One of the places I'd love to visit despite my irrational fear after watching Brokedown Palace!

  3. Oh my~ I know where I'm shopping this weekend - Asian grocery, here I come! This is a must-make, for sure. Thanks for sharing! The directions are SO helpful. I was worried you'd have a fancy steamer that would be necessary to make this - so glad I can use a sieve! And champagne mangoes are my FAVORITE.

    Enjoy your trip!!!

  4. Oh dear! I thoroughly share your sentiments. We love love love coconut sticky rice with cold slices of mango. The first time we cut into those chewy, gooey rice circles at our favorite Thai restaurant we all went silent...and the mmmmm's started. My daughter's birthday does not go by without this dessert. So simple but sooooo good. Have a wonderful time in Thailand!

  5. I first tried mango sticky rice in Chiang Mai and absolutely loved it! That's so neat that you took a cooking course there to learn how to make it - it seems to have paid off as your instructions are very clear and helpful - I can't wait to try it myself now! Hope you have a good time in Thailand :)

  6. One of my favorite desserts!

  7. Thanks, your recipe is mouthwatering. I am not really good at cooking but you are a great inspiration!