Bangkok’s famous Mae Varee mango sticky rice shop has barely kept up with demand in recent days. At one point, so many delivery drivers had lined up outside to pick up orders that police arrived, fearing their bikes were blocking traffic.
“Yesterday we had to close delivery orders from time to time because we could not prepare [the rice] over time,” said Naparom Suntiparadorn, whose family owns the store. On Sunday, delivery orders were six or seven times higher than usual.
The frenzy came after 19-year-old rapper Milli became the first Thai to perform solo at the Coachella festival in California, and marked the occasion by eating the sweet treat on stage.
Her performance, including the way she poked fun at cliched stereotypes of Thailand (“I don’t ride an elephant”) and the Thai government, won applause from many young Thais. “The country is good, the people are good, our food is good, but the government is good. [rotten],” she says.
Across Thailand, demand for mango sticky rice, one of the country’s best-known desserts, has since skyrocketed. A popular food delivery app told Thai media that orders more than tripled within 24 hours of Milli’s performance. Social media has been filled with images of the dessert: a meme has replaced Bangkok’s democracy monument with a huge sticky rice moundshielded by four slices of mango.
The government has sought to capitalize on the trend, despite Milli’s strong criticism of his leadership. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha says the Ministry of Culture may propose recognition of mango sticky rice – khao nieo mamuang, in Thai – as part of Thai cultural heritage through Unesco.
“It is important for Thailand to use its soft power abroad. We have a lot of resources that can be promoted internationally,” Prayuth said, according to the Bangkok Post.
Embarrassingly for Prayuth, last year Milli – whose real name is Danupha Khanatheerakul – was fined 2,000 baht (around £45) for ‘public insult’ after criticizing the government’s response to Covid.
For stores 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 relied on local customers as the travel industry has yet to recover.
She said the shop uses the finest ingredients from across the country. “The rice must be in perfect condition, without cracks. We clean it well and spray it. The coconut comes from the province of Surat Thani. 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 that we sprinkle crispy mung beans on top.
Naparom would be happy to be recognized by Unesco. “I guess it’s like a Thai massage in the sense that you have to come here to Thailand to experience it,” she said. “It won’t taste the same if you eat it elsewhere.”