10th August 2013
Dr. Leslie Tay of ieat.ishoot.ipost couldn’t have chosen a better weekend. The Muslim celebration of Hari Raya Eidulfitri coincided with Singapore’s National Day weekend and gave everyone within 2 hours flight a nice 4-day vacation. So the 10th of August 2013 was the day that was chosen for the Durian Degustation XII, which became a more ambitious project and evolved into a “Durian Mobilization” (borrowing terms from the national service here!). At 35 SGD per person, a donation towards a charitable cause and a promise to appreciate different cultivars, we couldn’t think of a better way to spend an evening.
Under the large canopy of the Telok Ayer Community Center, everyone began to take their places by 6.30pm (even though the event was due to start only at 7.30pm). Since it was a free seating event with everyone bringing their own picnic mats and other paraphernalia, it was a good idea to get there reasonably early. The event was well organized and controlled, numbers marked out assigned “spaces” where groups of 6-12 people would sit together. I was to meet up with Jessica and sit with her group. “Meet me at the back of the community center at 7″ she said, “that’s where they’ll be unloading the durians”.
We parked the car a block away and took a nice stroll via the park at the back of the community center. As we approached the car park for the community center, we saw lots of people milling around…. the durians!
All the durians were looking fresh and prickly with long stems on (a very good indication of freshness) and neatly stacked in baskets. Each basket was labelled clearly with the cultivar.
Was there any intention in the order of the baskets?
Well, I think if you read chinese script, the direction is always top to bottom and left to right. If you look at the photo above, I think you can deduce which durians were thought to be popular with the crowd. The small stacks are for “appreciation” while the larger stacks are for “consumption”. The higher the stack, the more to go around. I’d say the D13′s and the MSW’s win hands down. There were some tables parallel to the baskets and the supplier had left his name card out for anyone who still maintains a rolodex.
“Come come” motioned Jessica ” we need to get you guys registered. The registration is over at the end here and we’ll be sitting at placemat number 9.”
We left our various mats and bags with Jessica’s family and the friendly group and headed over to the registration table.
Everyone came casually dressed, prepared for warm weather and a rather breezeless evening. Despite the lack of any fans, I am pleased to report that there were no mosquitoes in sight and it was quite cool due to the overcast day. The registration counter took our details and issued us wrist tags (ala disco clubs or F1).
Walking past the event billboards, we noticed a table strategically placed in the middle by the stage. This was the real advertisement and menu for the event and the press. Each fruit was placed in eating sequence with a little descriptive notecard.
After rounds of introductions and getting comfortable on our little picnic mat, we realized that after a while, none of us could really hear each other that well anymore. The loud pumping music in the background (yes, there was a live DJ and loudspeakers) matched the din of everyone trying to have a conversation. It was getting dark and if it had been quiet, we would have probably heard some stomachs growling. The seating area probably reached almost full capacity. In his opening speech, Dr. Leslie Tay welcomed all 300+ participants and shared the program for the evening. He mentioned that some participants had probably starved themselves all day for this durian buffet, but it was in fact not a buffet but more of a tasting session. he said that Ah Seng -the durian supplier partner he worked with- had imported 900Kg of durian for the event. So that would be approximately less than 3Kg of durian per person. (Well, durians are weighed with the husks which effectively make it heavier. One durian can weigh between 2-3 Kg, so effectively each person would be consuming one durian each :)).
Dr. Leslie organized this event with the Singapore Kindness Movement, so the Chairman got to tell everyone to be nice to one another. Everyone was nice there but I think it would have been an interesting test to put all the durians out and see what happens in a free-for-all. The durians were served to each group, to prevent fights and general chaos I suppose (note that the Genting event was also supposed to be organized like this).
Then Dr. Leslie introduced the star of the show, Ah Seng the durian man. Everyone was much more interested in him!
Once all the introductions were done, it was time to get on with the show. Dr. Leslie gave the nod and Ah Seng went on stage to tell everyone about the first durian we were about to experience…. the Black Pearl (not from the Pirates of the Caribbean, that’s a different Black Pearl). So drumroll….. dum dum dum dee dum…… and like the start of a chinese wedding dinner, out marched the volunteers carrying a basket with a fruit to be delivered to each group of durian fanatics. Now for the durian photos…..
Everyone in my group was very courteous, no snatching, no hoarding and no fingering (excuse the lingo) of the fruit. The fruit laden husks were proffered around and each person picked their piece. Next up the Ang Hae…
Then the XO….
And then everything in between and then the Mao Shan Wang
Photogenic durians all of them. Check out this tiny seed.
The thing about eating durian slowly in courses is that it fills you up. People wonder why the mediterranean and french people are slim, that’s because it’s not just what they eat but how they eat it. A french lunch is typically taken seriously and slowly, savoring every bite. So you eat less over a longer period of time. All of us could definitely have eaten more if the durian was placed in front of us all at once in boxes (hands up those who can easily finish a box of durians from the fridge). Being served just ensures that the timing was well spaced out (I guess also to let your palate recharge) and that you eat at a slower pace. Hence eating less but feeling full by the time we got to the end. I have mixed feelings about whether there should have been quite as many durian types served. When we got to the MSW, everyone was pretty full and some already had quite enough of durian. So the appreciation was less in a way.
While all the durian lovers were chowing down and listening to the interesting narratives by Dr. Leslie (quips like “Durian husks contain enzymes so wash your hands in it after eating”; “i should invent a durian detergent”; “Is it a myth that you shouldn’t eat durian and drink” etc), there was a lot going on behind the scenes. Check it out in my next post.
After all this time that I’ve been visiting Jakarta, I’ve seen local Indonesian durians for sale (usually from Medan) but never bought any to try. Well, that all changed last week when I decided to take the plunge for the first time.
I was out to buy some peaches for a friend at the Total Fruit Store in Jalan Wolter Monginsidi and of course the display caught my eye.
We are definitely already in the midst of durian season and I’ve been eyeing the Monthong durians for sale at the GrandLucky but succeeded in holding off my purchase as it just doesn’t smell or look as good as the ones we get in KL.
But durian deprivation finally got a hold of me and I thought a good way to get rid of the craving would be to try something new. I had to take a closer look.
OK, not too unfriendly pricing. The one on the left is equivalent to 5.6 uSD and the one on the right is 6.3 USD. Not too bad I guess. I contemplated for a short while and picked up the one on the left because the fruit didn’t look quite as “squashed” from handling and packaging. It’s a pity that it’s just labelled as “Durian Medan”. It’s as if there is just one type… which would seem very unusual to me. Perhaps there just isn’t the breeding and cultivation industry as there is in Malaysia.
We attended a dinner that evening so we didn’t end up consuming it on the same day. I stuck it in the freezer for another evening. We didn’t wait too long.
Here’s a picture of the durian post thaw:
Color looked great but what was disappointing was the lack of the usual durian aromas which are so important to kick the saliva glands and neural connections into overdrive. Oh well, we’ll give it a try anyway.
Durians should always be eaten last or solo among fruits. The taste is usually overwhelming and even the best ripe Californian peaches and grapes will be bland compared to it.
So the taste test.
Color (vs expectation): B-
Size of seed: Large (compared to pellicle)
Overall rating: C
I thought it was generally lousy compared to Malaysian durians but am open to re-rating if I get a better sample. No wonder Indonesians fly in to KL to eat durians.
Mum was off to Europe and told me that she left some “organic durian” in the freezer and that I should eat eat when next home. It was most exciting, I was very curious as to what this organic durian might mean to its taste and texture. Upon defrosting (ideally leave it for around 4 hours at room temperature), it smelled pungent and distinctly durian. The color was not too intense yellow (so not a musang king) but had the same creamy texture. It looked like it was probably a small-ish durian judging from the size of each piece of delicious fruit. Not too bitter, not too sweet, the smell definitely won hands down but the taste was (in my opinion) fairly standard. Not bad but also not the best I’ve had.
If you look closely at the seeds, some are full and round, while some are odd shaped and sort of reminiscent of a baroque pearl. This is quite unusual as most seeds in a musang king tend to be somewhat odd shaped, while the D24s and the kampong durian variety tend to yield very evenly shaped egg-like seeds.
Hmm. There’s another pack in the freezer for next time and I wonder if I’ll feel differently about it when I next try it. I’ll also find out when mum gets back, where the source of the organic durian is from and what makes it more “organic” than others…(supposedly the pesticide sprays but who knows…)
I’ve been waiting for quite a while for a proper durian feast since last year. S2 and I had friends (L&P) visiting from Egypt 3 weeks ago (just before the protests started) and we took them on an ambitious but rainy tour of KL. After dragging them to various lookout points (in heavy rain) and subjecting them to kaya toast (plug here for Yut Kee), S2 and I thought we’d end the night with a fantastic chinese dinner of siew ju at Imbi Palace and round the corner to our usual stall. I have to tell you that the Imbi stall has been “renovated” and now has an impressive zinc roof shelter that spans twice as large as the original umbrellas did, providing more dry seating areas than before. The owner has also installed more fluorescent lights and everything was much brighter than before. We ordered 2 smallish durians which were MSWs which our friends thought smelled revolting and the taste revile. But, they were very game and actually ate a few seeds just to confirm that they neither liked the taste nor texture. S2 and I generally had a good time until it came to the bill which amounted to over RM 150 for both. We thought that this was way overcharging us and thus with a heavy heart, I must admit that we have decided to boycott that stall (we hypothesize that perhaps the stall owners wish to recoup their investment asap, even from their regulars). So, no more eating durians at Jalan Imbi for the time being.
Valentine’s Day fell on the 14th which was a Monday this year and so happened that: 1) this is still during the CNY period and 2) it was the eve of the Prophet’s birthday (national holiday here!). While most people were probably out celebrating their couply love, we hung out with my usual “medical makan kaki” comprising of 5 doctors and our crew of 4. This time we went to Unique Seafood in Section 13 (fresh as you can get, but forget conversation as it’s way too noisy) and then made our way over to Donald’s Durian in SS2, another usual haunt of ours. I rang Donald before going just to make sure that he had the good spikey stuff- durians (it’s still kind of early in the season) and that he had a table for our large group.
“No problem,” he said, “Just come over, I will get a table ready for you“
Fantastic. We got there at 10.30pm, still full of fish and other swimmers, but ready for mouthwatering durian (for all you newbies, we always have room for durian).
“What will you have tonight?” Donald asked casually. I asked him what he had which was good. “Well, we can start off with some D13, progress onto D101 and D24…”
AC the durian snob made a wrinkled face at the mention of the common D24. “How about Mau Sang Wang?” AC asked, she could barely contain herself and it seemed to be all she wanted.
“Yes, we have that too but I would recommend that the Mau Sang Wang will be last…” Donald wandered back over to his wall of durians to start the selections.
“Make sure all good one ah..” AC quipped after him. Donald assured her with a money back guarantee.
I have to confess that I was too busy eating and only remembered to take the photos only towards the end of the
session… but there’s enough there to share what the colors, textures and aromas were.
First up, the D13 which was richly unfamiliar but was caramelly, velvety and sweet all at once. You can see that the ripeness was perfection, I say this because the outer skin separates smoothly and cleanly, almost like a translucent wrapper from the rest of the flesh. And it is this surprising resistance when you first bit into it that eventually gives way to the soft yielding flesh below which made all of us say that overall, we rated this fruit a 4.5/5.
The durian itself was small and rather cute, it was slightly larger than the palm of my hand, the seeds were small and kind of irregularly shaped which reminded me of the MSW which is almost always like that.
Each pellicle contained about 5 small seeds wrapped in this rich yellowy orange skin. We polished this one off pretty quickly.
Next up was the D101.
This D101 was one of the larger durians Donald recommended that night. It was at least 30cm from top to bottom and had several big seeds with nice sunny yellow flesh.
This was also pleasant but the taste was a little bit more watered down than the D13 and we didn’t want to eat all of it as we were anticipating what would come next.
The seeds were larger and more meaty. We were worried that it might fill us up all the way.
Donald sent over another Durian which I hadn’t had before, or maybe it just goes by a different name. The Phoenix.
The Phoenix was delicious. I have to say now that it was my favorite for the whole night, with D13 coming in straight behind it. This Phoenix was pale to an almost anemic looking jaundiced kid and small like the D13 comparable to the size of a canteloupe melon. The seeds were small and the flesh was a little bitter, a little sweet, but very smooth, velvety and had a melt-in-your-mouth consistency. Not watery at all, it had the right surface tension and didn’t come across fibrous or sticky on the palate. Definitely try this if you are having some durian this week.
I really enjoyed this one but I suspect that like the Tauwa (see previous posts), we just can’t get it all year round.
After the pale and seemingly sun deprived Phoenix, Donald sent over the Mau Sang Wang (aka, Raja Kunyit). This Mau Sang Wang was a little larger than I would have liked, it was almost as large as the D101 and had the classic vibrant canary yellow with even spacing and full flesh overlaying small seeds.
Generally, I am a big fan of the Mau Sang Wang, but this one was not as strong in flavour as I would have liked it and maybe I was already won over by the Phoenix and D13.
As you can imagine, we were already getting pretty full by this stage (Donald sent 2 or 3 of each kind mind you) and were were starting to push each other to take the last seeds left in the fruits.
At this juncture, Donald brought out a heavy hitter (wallet too). This was the D88, a large monster to end of the evening and complete the repertoire and spectrum. It was almost too big for us to stomach but it certainly made an impressive appearance. The brown almost leathery spikes split open to reveal large golden pillow style durian seeds. Each seed was about as big as my fist (which isn’t that big, about the size of an apple).
The flesh by comparison was weak in flavor compared to all the others and it was by far the most watery and least delectable among the lot. Perhaps our tastebuds were also already so overwhelmed by all the wonderful aromas and textures, it would be hard to take them to the next stimulatory level.
I thought that the D88 would have been a good candidate for the freezer, and it was a pity I forgot to take the seeds home as they were almost perfectly ovular in shape, except that you would definitely prefer to eat Phoenix rather than a D88….
Here’s my last photo for this post…wonderfully skin colored smooth durian seeds.
I’ll keep you updated soon on my next durian adventure. I intend to to visit a durian farm with some new friends who say they are also huge fans of the fruit one of these weekends when we have time, that will be an authentic and fresh feast.
My sis who hates durian sent this to me.. I thought that this was really a cool abstract way to view this elegant fruit.
You can see the pellicles and embryos developing inside the seeds and the husks that keep the fruit ensconed safely within.
Ok, I finally summoned up the bravado to put up this post. Brett had asked me to send him some seeds and I did. I took the liberty of ascertaining if they were good to grow by cleaning them and placing them in water to see if they would yield viable sprouts, which you can see that they did from the photo below. I put them in a neat little tupperware, packed it with wet cotton wool and sealed it twice over with cling film. Put in a nice packaged envelope and sent them by the express mail to him in California.
Sadly, Brett tells me that the seeds did arrive, but were completely destroyed in the shipping process. I wonder if it was intentional by Mr. Postman who maybe didn’t want any durians crossing the border. Brett wrote that he ended up eating them so as not to waste them, but they had arrived in splinters and were of no use to him.
Anyway, I can’t say that I wasn’t disappointed, but I guess the only way to know is to try again. Brett, you can see the seeds in their original state before they left me and I had written this brief post but hadn’t posted it yet and was hoping in some part that you might have a little plant to show me.
These wonderful highland D24 durian seeds are in the post to you and if all is well, you should be receiving them in another day or two. I hope that they survive the journey and have a new and happy home with you in America.
Thank you Chris for sending us a photo of your durian sapling (btw, definition: sapling = young tree) which is absolutely beautiful.
Notice that its grown very tall (would you say 1 ft a year Chris?) and the leaves are very well formed and lush green.
A note from Chris on his Stinky Spike:
“This Durian sapling is about 3 years old. I planted the seeds from a fruit I bought in China Town, London. Because I am in the UK and winters here are cold, I germinated the seeds on a heated pad, like the ones they use for reptiles and amphibians. I now keep the growing tree near a radiator (which other plants seem to hate because it dries them out!), but I water it often with luke warm water from the kettle. I also planted it in ericaeous compost (I think normal potting compost is too rich for durian plants). All in all, it seems to tolerate my drafty flat in Bristol much better than expected!”
Chris, I have a few questions for you (hope you don’t mind!):
1. Did you start off growing this tree in the same pot as you have now or did you transplant it from a smaller pot?
2. I notice that the leaf tips turn brown, mine does too, any idea why? (is it natural?)
3. When your plant grew, did it lose any of its initial leaves along the way?
4. Did your plant grow from the base and is there a rough-ish texture along the initial stem?
5. Why is there a mirror beside the pot? Is this to reflect more light onto the leaves?
6. How long do you intend to keep it in your flat before you think it needs to be planted outdoors?
7. Do you intend to attempt at making a durian bonsai?
8. Do you love Durian fruit?
I am really looking forward to seeing Chris’s photos on his Durian Sapling’s sibling, which he donated to the botanic gardens of Bristol. Apparently, it is thriving in a heated greenhouse and is in better shape!
It would be pretty amazing if suddenly Bristol could become a European durian hub. But its going to be tough to beat the variety we have here in Malaysia
It is generally true in my experience that a deeper richer color and tone of the durian is an indicator of its flavor and taste personality. I blogged in a previous entry about the color of durians and its appeal to our visual cortex. Having said that, color does not always indicate a better flavor but may be used to compensate for poor flavor in order to attract the same amount of gastric interest.
Depth of color: maybe a 7 or an 8
Appearance of texture: probably 7 or 8
Attractiveness of size: maybe an 8 or 9 (its not too big nor small)
Shape: Yes very shapely, maybe an 8
Flesh to fruit ratio: 5 (too much of the white bit)
Overall: a very decent 8 I’d say just looking at it.
BUT I’m sorry to tell you that tastewise the D96 fell short. It tasted more like a 4-5 disappointing the appearance of the fruit. Mediocre taste means that you could eat it and it is not intolerable but it isn’t incredibly special either, ie no, you wouldn’t order a second fruit.
If you don’t know what I mean by the description above and the comparisons of color, here’s a photo that will help with some perspective.
On the left, the D96, and on the right, the incredibly reliable MSW which usually is already considered a deeper colored fruit as compared with the other species. The exterior does somewhat reflect the color inside (but I would never use this as a benchmark, merely as a singular observation) and note that the spikes are quite uniformly spikey and quite close together.
Have you had a D96? I wonder if there is great variation in the species where one D96 can be markedly different to another. If you’ve had one and it doesn’t sound like how I’ve described it, please do let me know…
As promised, here are the photos of the seed husk of the durian plant when it falls off.
And here is what the plant should look like after the seed husk falls off….