Last Friday we went to a Burmese restaurant in Daly City that was just fabulous. We ordered way too much food at Little Yangon that there was little room for dessert. After a lengthy conversation with chef/owner Khinn Ma Ma, we realized that our parking meter was nearly out and hurriedly asked for the check. She promptly responded but also sent us off with a complimentary mango pudding to “sweeten our palate.” It was gelled with agar so the texture was very firm. Flavorwise, it was delicately sweet – much like the mango pudding that you get at dim sum restaurants, which I seldom order. Such mango puddings are often made with evaporated milk, which kind of deadens the fresh brightness of mango. After I had a few bites, I thought about making my own, without evaporated milk.
If you’re not familiar with mango pudding, it has British colonial roots in India but is super popular tropical Asia, though it’s not a major deal in Vietnam. Sometimes the pudding is soft like a custard but while other times it is super firm like jello. The former is generally thickened with cornstarch while the latter is gelled with agar agar or gelatine. I like the firm, jello-like texture but admit that it's not a luscious pudding per se. However in the Asian mindset, this sweet snack hails from the pudding family but got changed along the way to fit local situations.
Given the Indian roots, I decided to make a pudding that had echoed a bit of mango lassi but gelled with agar agar, a seaweed based gelatinizing agent that’s super popular in East and Southeast Asia. Agar agar is vegetarian and will set liquids at room temperature. (Very cool and convenient.) The telephone brand of powdered agar agar is stocked at most Chinese and Southeast Asian markets.
For the mango, I tried fresh and canned. The giant Keitt mango (mine weighed 1 1/2 pounds!) is sweet and virtually stringless. Canned sweetened mango puree from India is crazy good and burnt orange in color. It’s usually sold at Indian markets and labeled according to mango breed. Alphonso and Kesar mangos are terrific. The cans are big but you can keep leftover puree refrigerated for days after opening.
This photo of the mango pudding casted as lucky koi fish shows the color difference between fresh and canned mango:
As a little fun note, I dug up a koi fish gelatin mold purchased in Melbourne a few years back and poured the mango mixture into it. The result was lucky mango gold fish:
Asian jello/agar agar molds are often sold at restaurant and houseware shops in Chinese and Southeast Asian neighborhoods. Or, just eat the mango pudding from a rice bowl. I had some tiny frais de bois strawberries in the garden and topped mine with it. Buttermilk imparted a nice tang that I like.
Additional tweaks: Instead of yogurt, you could probably use coconut cream for a vegan approach. If you don’t have agar agar, use 1 1/2 teaspoons gelatine and heat with the water over low heat, whisking, until dissolved; refrigerate, uncovered, to firm up.
Yield: Makes about 6 servings
- 1 pound / 450 g fresh mango flesh, or 2 cups / 480 ml canned sweetened mango
- 1/2 cup / 120 ml Greek yogurt, full or 2 % fat
- About 2/3 cup / 4.67 oz / 130 g sugar
- 1 to 3 tablespoons lightly packed dark brown sugar
- 2 to 3 teaspoons fresh lime juice
- 1 1/4 cups / 300 ml lukewarm water
- 2 teaspoon agar-agar powder
- Optional garnishes: Cream/buttermilk/coconut milk, diced fresh mango, strawberries, fresh mint
- If using fresh mango, process or blend it with the yogurt until smooth. Pass through a coarse mesh strainer positioned over quart (liter) size measuring cup, stirring with a spatula. Discard stringy bits. If using canned sweetened mango, just put it into the measuring cup.
- Regardless of mango type, sweeten it with the regular and brown sugar. Add the granulated sugar by the 1/4 cup (1.75 oz / 50 g) and brown sugar by the tablespoon. Make it sweeter than you’re comfortable with because it will be diluted by the water later on. Add lime juice to brighten the flavor. Set aside.
- Find some rice bowls or the like, or molds to gel the mango pudding in. You’ll have roughly 3 1/2 cups (840 ml) to deal with. Set by the stove.
- Put the water in a saucepan. Sprinkle on the agar agar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, to dissolve the agar agar. Turn off the heat, pour in the mango mixture, whisking to combine well. Pour the mixture back into the measuring cup for easier portioning.
- With little hesitation, divide the mango between your bowls or molds. If you like, push surface bubbles to the side. Set at room temperature to cool and firm up, 1 to 2 hours. Cover and refrigerate afterwards. Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature. Top with a drizzle of cream, buttermilk or coconut milk if you want a rich touch. Add the fresh fruit for flourish and color. Eat with spoons.