|The very delicious and my favorites kanom tien and babin at Mae Nongnuch shop in Hua Hin|
In Hua Hin, where many people can be quite obsessed with food and desserts, a normal easy chat can heat up when you touch on some sensitive subjects. For example, the search for the best sticky rice and mango in town. Thing is, even locals who were born and bred in this popular resort borough can have different taste buds. “I thought Aunty soandso makes the best sticky rice,” said my wonderful food source who runs a popular seafood restaurant on Naeb Kehaad road. “But I thought Ms soandso is much better,” says her friend, another long time Hua Hin resident, who always enjoys the pleasure of acclaiming her own impeccable taste for food.
Whatever they say, when it comes to sticky rice and mango, I always stick to my gun. In my not-so-humble opinion, I vote for Mae Nongnuch (Meechai) shop opposite to the famous Chatchai market for the best Thai favorite. And whenever I come here, I am not just buying their lovely sticky rice, but also their delicious kanom tien (sticky rice dumpling with savoury peanut filling), crunchy babin (coconut tart) and probably preserved mango (mango sheets), dates and whatever looks good and available that day, too.
|Other favorites such as sticky rice + black beans (left) and all gold desserts (right)|
Mae Nongnuch shop is probably the longest-lasting Thai sweet shop in Hua Hin. Khun Ya Nongnuch, the founder who is now in her jolly 90s, says that she had been selling the sticky rice for about 70 years, since she was in her early 20s when she spent years finding the right way to do all the sweets we enjoy today on her own.
“Nobody really taught me how to make the sticky rice,” says Khun Ya Nongnuch. “What I did was tasting a whole lot of good sticky rice available and adapting them into my own kind of perfection. I guess you need to be a collective observant to make a good of everything, including the sticky rice.”
A good sticky rice (we call it khao niew moon – type that goes with ripe sweet mango) should be soft and tender. While being gorgeously glistening from the coating of the coconut milk, the rice should never be too soggy, but loose and still grainy. The taste, while being sweet, should not be too sweet but with a well-balanced taste and aromatic hints of coconut and pandanus leaves.
|The niece is teaching me how to choose the right sticky rice (left) and the glistering sticky rice is being folded with coconut milk (right)|
“We still use real pandanus leaves when steaming the rice,” says Khun Dear, Atchariya, Khun Ya’s niece who took us inside their kitchen. “Thai desserts take a lot of observation. My grandma never used just one kind of sticky rice, but mixing together rices from different years to make the right balance of the texture. She is such a pro who never needs to measure the rice with any scales. And she always has it right.”
Soaked overnight and then steamed, the freshly cooked sticky rice is then quickly folded with the cream of coconut milk seasoned with sugar and salt before being left to soak up all the coconut milk. The rice is then stirred up for a couple of more times until it is nicely plumped with the liquid. Now the only thing you need to do is to peel up a plate of ripe and sweet mango and serve it with the sticky rice and perhaps more big dollops of coconut cream.
|Granny Nongnuch, founder of Mae Nongnuch shop, now 90 and still jolly and bright, is exchanging ideas with her niece, Khun Dear.|
Coconut and palm sugar are Petchaburi’s famous staples. And that means Khun Ya Nongnuch could make a whole lot more of delicious Thai desserts at her shop, too. Mature and meaty coconuts are hand-grated to make babin – a type of coconut tart that I so very much love. Petchaburi is also the land of toddy palms, the young ones are used to make toddy palm jelly – another famous item on the long list at Mae Nongnuch’s. Their lovely sticky rice with black beans in a thick layer of coconut cream can always easily drive me crazy as well as their sangkaya (egg custard), preserved mangoes and much much more delicious stuff that always keep me going for weeks even after our vacation.
Mae Nongnuch (Meechai) is opposite to Talad Chatchai on Petchakasem Road. T: (032) 511-035.