Mango sago is a dessert popular throughout China, Japan, and Southeast Asia. It is essentially a chilled mango pudding that gains texture from the addition of sago pearls. There are many variations of mango sago, but all include bits of ripe mango, pearled sago, and some sort of creaming agent, often coconut milk or sweetened condensed milk. This pudding is relatively easy to make at home but is popular in restaurants and food stalls, as well, both in and outside of Asia.
The main difference between mango sago and ordinary mango pudding is the presence of sago pearls. Sago is a starch derived from the stalk of the sago palm tree. In its natural form, this starch is highly toxic to humans, but when properly treated, the toxins can be removed and the fibers safely consumed. Sago pearls are processed, boiled palm fibers that resemble small white clear beads or pearls. They are commonly used in dishes both sweet and savory.
Sago palms are indigenous to the south of Japan but grow with relative success in most warm climates. The starchy insides are common in the cuisine of China, Indonesia, and the Philippines, among others. Mangoes are also native to most of these places. Mango sago is the marriage of these two naturally derived ingredients.
Most mango sago preparations begin with a coarsely chopped mango that is blended with sugar and condensed milk or coconut milk to form a thick cream. The cream can be thinned with mango juice, milk, or even water, depending on taste. Cooks will typically chill the mixture just after blending.
Meanwhile, cooks prepare the sago pearls. The majority of commercially prepared pearls are packaged when dehydrated. They must be soaked in water and rinsed of excess starch before using. Cooks typically add the prepared pearls to the chilled pudding just before serving. Chunks of fresh mango or other tropical fruits are common garnishes.
Mango sago is one of the more flexible Southeast Asian fruit desserts. It is easy to alter the basic recipe to suit individual tastes and preferences. Sweetness, texture, and overall consistency can be easily manipulated by changing ingredient proportions. Flavor can also be changed with the addition of vanilla beans, cinnamon, or mint leaves, to name a few.
Cooking with mango is an easy possibility in nearly all parts of the world, as the fruit is common enough to be regularly shipped and stocked in most major markets. The same is not always true of sago. Outside of Asia, it can be difficult to find the pearls.
Some Western cooks who want to recreate a basic rendition of mango sago sometimes substitute tapioca pearls. The look is similar and the taste, while markedly different, is nonetheless comparable. Tapioca gives the pudding the texture it needs to be more than just a sweetened mango puree.