Black rice was once known as ‘forbidden’ rice. It was so prized in Ancient China that only the emperor was allowed to eat the small quantities of black rice that were cultivated at that time. Even today, Chinese medicine names black rice ‘black pearl’ and traditional Chinese doctors prescribe it as a tonic that is thought to strengthen the spleen, intestines and stomach and help promote stamina. The scientific explanation for this may be that the glutinous sticky varieties of black rice contain high levels of flavanoids, iron, vitamin and minerals. An added bonus for gluten avoiders is that it is naturally gluten free.
One of our favourite Asian comfort foods, and one that we sample at Thai restaurants whenever we can, is the sublime combination, mango and black sticky rice. Whilst the mark of the very best establishments is food of a quality that you couldn’t even try to replicate, the simplicity of this dish makes it possible. Although some recipes suggest additions such as pineapple for us at least the traditional combination of mango, black sticky rice and coconut milk is still the best. The inspiration for my favourite method of assembling it at home is that of Thai Basil in the ground floor of Pacific Place a glitzy shopping mall in Hong Kong.
What works with the Thai Basil style of presenting the dish is the way the black sticky rice is layered with the sliced mango before the coconut milk is poured over. Simple really. In the restaurant the presentation is made fancier by the addition of a caramelized sugar decoration that we have never been tempted to eat, and we could take or leave the toasted coconut shavings precariously balanced on top. For us, it is all the quality of the mango and the black rice.
In Asia we are completely spoilt by the range of choice of mangos available to us. Apart from the occasional glorious Indian Alfonso in all its fragrant sunset orange-yellow glory, we can find Thai Sui Sin, Golden or Mahanchanok mangos encased in protective plastic webbing alongside enormous Taiwanese mangos. Whilst this this part isn’t quite as much fun in England, it is still possible to find good ripe mangoes.
Despite its name, black glutinous rice is an attractive dark purple rather than black colour when cooked. It is sometimes served with white glutinous rice (as at the Singaporean restaurant Jim Thompson) but in our view at least, it just isn’t the same. The black rice is intrinsic to its success and it derived from its distinctive taste which combines so well with the other ingredients.
Black sticky rice is stocked by Wholefoods in London and in Asian food shops outside Asia. In contrast to the Emperor’s days it is easy to find in supermarkets throughout Asia. As with wild rice, expect it to take a little longer to cook than traditional white rice.
Thai Basil, FG/F, Shop 001 Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty, Hong Kong -Tel: 2537 4682