Thonglor in central Bangkok is where the well-heeled shop, dine and wine. There is a good selection of boutiques, bars, pubs and restaurants here, but it also has a high turnover of broken dreams or business plans gone awry.
However, at the very beginning of the 55th soi (street or alley) that goes off to Sukhumvit Road lies one of the few remaining old-school stalls that serves one of the most delicious desserts commonly found in Thailand: Mango sticky rice.
Mae Varee (or Mother Varee) Fruit Shop appears to be a nondescript fruit stall but what some may not know is that it also sells Thai desserts, despite the lack of designated seating.
Mango sticky rice is made up of three simple ingredients: Succulent ripe mangoes, perfectly cooked sticky rice (also known as glutinous rice) and a warm, salty-sweet coconut milk sauce on top of it. Sometimes, toasted yellow mung beans are sprinkled on top for added texture and crunch. A boxed set at Mae Varee costs THB130 (US$3.70).
“It started about 35 years ago when we decided to combine my mother’s sticky rice business with that my husband’s fruit business,” said 55-year-old Mrs Varee Jennsuwan, the owner of the stall. After a slow start, the shop took off four years later.
Good food starts with good ingredients and Varee’s mango sticky rice is no exception. The mangoes – with their soft, pleasant aroma and sweet flesh – are from Nam Dok Mai (it means “flower water”) cultivar, where they grow all year.
The rice comes from Chiang Rai in the north, while the coconut is from Surat Thani province in the south. What’s interesting is, she even handpicked the salt she uses from Samut Sakhorn, located just outside of Bangkok.
While Varee didn’t say how many servings of mango sticky rice she sells every day, the fact that she uses at least 18 to 20kg of sticky rice each day should give you an idea.
Her recipe has stayed the same, although the neighbourhood around Mae Varee Fruit Shop has gone through dramatic changes over the years. “The district grew very rapidly,” Mrs Varee said.
She also acknowledged that the BTS Sky Train station next door, alongside the new condominiums, hotels and shops, has also brought her new customers, especially overseas tourists.
While the urban development has seen her business boom, other mom-and-pop shops haven’t been as lucky – there were either no successors or the tenants were kicked out by their landlords. Mae Varee needn’t have to worry though; her family owns the building where the shop is and everyone helps out in the business. She even hinted that they might set up another shop elsewhere.