Government seeks to capitalise on trend after rapper Milli eats dish on stage at US music festival
Bangkok’s famous Mae Varee mango sticky rice shop has barely kept up with demand over recent days. At one point, so many delivery drivers had lined up outside to collect orders that the police arrived, concerned that their bikes were blocking the traffic.
“Yesterday we needed to close the delivery orders from time to time because we couldn’t prepare [the rice] in time,” said Naparom Suntiparadorn, whose family own the shop. On Sunday, delivery orders were six or seven times higher than usual.
The frenzy came after the 19-year-old rapper Milli became the first Thai to perform solo at Coachella festival in California, and marked the occasion by eating the sweet treat on stage.
Her performance, including the way she mocked cliched stereotypes of Thailand (“I don’t ride an elephant”) and the Thai government, was applauded by many young Thais. “The country is good, people are good, our food is good but the government is bood [rotten],” she said.
Across Thailand, demand for mango sticky rice, one of the country’s best known desserts, has since rocketed. One popular food delivery app told Thai media that orders more than tripled in the 24 hours after Milli’s performance. Social media have been filled with images of the dessert: one meme replaced Bangkok’s Democracy Monument with an enormous mound of sticky rice, shielded by four slices of mango.
The government has sought to capitalise on the trend, despite Milli’s strong criticism of its leadership. The prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, said the culture ministry may propose recognition of mango sticky rice – khao nieo mamuang, in Thai – as an item of Thai cultural heritage through Unesco.
“It’s important for Thailand to use its soft power abroad. We have plenty of resources that can be promoted on the international stage,” Prayuth said, according to the Bangkok Post.
For shops that sell the dessert, however, the buzz is a welcome relief. Before the pandemic, most of Mae Varee’s customers were tourists, Naparom said, but it has been relying on local customers as the travel sector is yet to recover.
She said the shop used the best ingredients from all over the country. “The rice needs to be in perfect shape, with no cracking. We clean it well and steam it. The coconut is from Surat Thani province. We simmer it. It tastes sweet, but not too sweet, and aromatic. Our mango is also aromatic. It has a natural sweetness. Our signature is we sprinkle crispy mung beans on top.”
Naparom would welcome Unesco recognition. “I guess it’s like a Thai massage in that you need to come here to Thailand to experience it,” she said. “It won’t taste the same if you eat it anywhere else.”