Fresh Malaysian durian in Wan Chai Today!

I happened to walk by my usual fruit shop along Wan Chai Road (next to Serge) and spied this…

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Ooh don’t those lychees look good. But I tell you what, the durian is better!

I stopped and remarked “wow you’re pregnant and love eating durians?” (reminds me of someone I know)

She said ” I just ate one or two, its just freshly arrived”

So I said “is it good”

She said “you want some? here try one” and handed me the not-too-big husk.

“Sure, ok thank you I’ll try one.” I said.

It was DELICIOUS. pungent. yellow. not too moist. not too dry. fibers that just melt on your tongue.

I was so happy she let me try that one durian seed that I couldn’t tell her off for giving me lousy mangosteens last week. She also let me try a lychee (she’s not a fan of lychees) but after the durian, the lychee was bland in the way that a bad watermelon is bland.

July is almost here and I hope we will be inundated with Malaysian mao shan wangs in Hong Kong.

The MSW durians outside Wan Chai Market

At the fruit stall just outside Wan Chai Market, next to Serge et le Phoque, a little fruit stall with a nice fruit seller and some decent fruit, stocks durian from Malaysia.

Musang Kings for sale

Musang Kings for sale

He told me that currently it costs HKD 300-400 per fruit or HKD180 per pound. I asked if it would be cheaper in July to which he replied resoundingly “yes”.

I told him it seemed expensive (of course way more than what I would pay in KL), and he told me to come back tomorrow. I suspect that the fruit is already very ripe and he will be re-packing them in individual trays for sale.

Fruit stall in Wan Chai

Fruit stall in Wan Chai

I’ve been buying some fruits from this stall and it’s been relatively good quality. I’ll let you know if I get the durians.

After Dinner Durian in Kuala Lumpur

On a recent trip to KL, I invited AC over for dinner. It had rained in the afternoon and we wanted to stay home to avoid the traffic at rush hour. She said that she would love to come over for dinner and exclaimed “I haven’t eaten durian since the last time you were here! I will go buy some as dessert.”

I wasn’t sure if she would, as she would have had to brave the traffic all the way to Jalan Imbi and back. Well, as sure as my salmon was in the oven and baking for dinner, AC turned up with the durian dessert. Initially we left the trademark rose red plastic bag on the table and didn’t want to touch it until after we had our dinner (you will soon see why this plan worked).

Right after we ate our dinner, I was pretty excited to get started on the dessert.

Go on mum” I said, “let’s open the durians!

My mum was a bit surprised that I had space for durians after the big meal, but as I have maintained for years, dessert compartments do not overlap with main dinner compartments.

Air sealed durian packaging

Air sealed durian packaging

 

So here’s why I could have my durians post dinner instead of having it as an appetizer. It was air sealed and there was no smell! So one of my main senses was deprived and hence… less temptation. AC told me that the Jalan Imbi durian uncle was rather proud of his new packaging, specifically pointing it out to her when she bought it. He told her that this way, no smell gets into the car. I suspect that this also serves the hordes of chinese tourists who want to bring some back to their hotel room or their home country via their luggage. They usually descend on his stall by coach loads and like a swarm of locusts, consume all the durian in sight.

Mum got a pair of scissors and exposed the wonderful durian fragrance which permeated the entire room.

Mao Shan Wang in March

Mao Shan Wang in March

And here is the first packet. Looking pretty good and tasting rich, smooth and creamy like a brut champagne.

MSW box 2

MSW box 2

The next box was equally delicious but had a different taste (one box contains fruit from one durian). It was a little softer, more pliant and a little watery. It had stronger bitter undertones and less of the sweetness. The thing about durian is that you can’t ever find fruits to compare which have the same texture but different tastes or the same taste but different textures. That is one of the wonderful surprises that durian has to offer. This is true even of fruit from the same tree.

Here is the final evidence.

Seeds of the Mao Shan Wang

Seeds of the Mao Shan Wang

The seeds are classically mis-shapened and small, most of Mao Shan Wang is the satisfying taste of sunshine.

Durian Mobilization 2013: Behind the Scenes

As with any successful show or event, there is always a diligent team working behind the scenes to set the stage, move the props and ensure that everything is put away at the end for the next show. While everyone was seated and enjoying the main durian discourse, I decided to take a walk behind the screen to see how the back room was operating. It was an impressive display of teamwork and agility.

Ah Seng’s team were well organized. There were durian sorters, durian cutters and durian deliverers. Under the fluorescent lights in the car park adjacent to the canopy, the durian cutters lined up some crates that served as stools. Durian sorters then dragged the baskets of durians over to be sniffed, sliced open and checked. The durians were then deposited singly into each awaiting basket, designated for each deliverer to take to the group inside.

So here are the guys who freshly opened almost 900Kg worth of durian. It takes practice and skill to get them right every time and with speed. Every durian was opened in approximately 5 seconds.

Durian Prep Team

Durian Prep Team, one hand gloved, one hand with a blade

Four guys doing all the slicing and dicing.

Durian Prep Team hard at work

Durian Prep Team hard at work

Empty the black baskets of all the durians and place durians into the white baskets. They would then wait until the next course was called for. So all the durians were opened fresh!

Empty those baskets!

Empty those baskets!

This was the eagerly-awaiting-durian-consuming-crowd. You can see durian lovers of all ages, and despite the late hour, it was a family affair.

Eagerly awaiting to be served

Eagerly awaiting to be served the next course of durian

Some even brought their own table and bench!

Some even brought their own table and bench!

I was really amazed to see the spectrum of preparation from the participants as well. It wasn’t just the durian guys who were organized. Check out this pop up table and bench one group brought along. It seats four people and looks quite sturdy for picnics. Wish I asked them where they got it!

There were also several sexy reporters at the scene posing with the durian to give the event good cleavage, oops, coverage.

TV news durian coverage

TV news durian coverage

What impressed me was Ah Seng’s determination to end the event on a solid note. When it came to the Mao Shan Wangs, he took matters into his own hands. He strode up to the cutting area and insisted on sniffing every durian individually prior to it being served. His nose was probably the best quality control check around.

Ah Seng doing the sniff QC

Ah Seng doing the sniff QC for each Mao Shan Wang

And then the durians were served to the delighted fans.

Would you like some?

Would you like some?

But many people were full by that time and Ah Seng had ensured enough MSW’s to go around. So my group was offered an extra one, which we couldn’t finish and was given to me to take home (since I was doing most of the walking around and less of the eating).

This is for you to take home

This is for you to take home

Ah Seng’s family team exhausted but happy after all the durians done with. The clean up could then begin. There were several green skips arranged near the van to take the husks, seeds and other waste away.

It’s been a long day and night for Ah Seng’s team

The crowd cleared out pretty quickly after the event was done. Loud pumping music by the DJ’s signaled that it was time to leave. Dr Leslie announced that he would sign books purchased at the event earlier in the day so the queue established itself once all the picnic-ers cleared out.

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Dr Leslie Tay autographing books sold at the event

And then finally Dr. Leslie Tay is free to give a full interview for the TV press which you can watch here.

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Dr. Leslie Tay interviewed for news TV

I was really surprised when I saw one group that didn’t clear out with the others. This well organized group brought a fantastic dinner to have after the durian smorgasbord. I could see fried bee hoon, char kway teow, nasi lemak and chicken wings (?). Hmm.. I was pretty full from the durians and we had planned not to do dinner but the food did look quite delicious… especially how they were eating it!

After dessert, they had dinner!

After dessert, they had dinner!

This was the MSW we brought home in a plastic bag. It was already sliced open and we had to gently carry it back so as not to break the bag and avoid poking ourselves (durian thorns are sharp!). I packed it in a plastic box when I got home and stuck it in the fridge. We ate it nice and cold the next day.

This was the MSW we brought home and consumed the next day

This was the MSW we brought home and consumed the next day

It fragranced out the fridge of course. A nice reminder of the event we attended the night before.

Durian Mobilization 2013

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.

Durian Mobilization Activity Board

Durian Mobilization Activity Board

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”.

PRE-EVENT

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!

Baby checking out the durians

Baby checking out 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.

The Durians are a-waiting

The Durians are a-waiting

Was there any intention in the order of the baskets?

Eating from left to right

Eating from left to right

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.

Ah Seng's Durian Contact Card

Ah Seng’s Durian Contact Card

“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.

Pay your money and get your tag here

Pay your money and get your tag here

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).

Maybe the only participant who didn't get tagged...

Am I the only one without a tag here?

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.

The table of ANTICIPATION: durians on display

The table of ANTICIPATION: durians on display

THE EVENT

Durians at dusk under the Hong Lim Telok Ayer CC Canopy

Durians at dusk under the Hong Lim Telok Ayer CC Canopy

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 :)).

Eagerly awaiting the announcement

Eagerly awaiting the announcement

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).

Dr. Leslie Tay and the Singapore Kindness Movement Chairman

Dr. Leslie Tay and the Singapore Kindness Movement Chairman

Then Dr. Leslie introduced the star of the show, Ah Seng the durian man. Everyone was much more interested in him!

Ah Seng and his brother at the opening speech

Ah Seng and his brother at the opening speech

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…..

The first 2 durians on the menu

The first 2 durians on the menu

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…

Here you go... this is is a nice looking ang hae durian...

Here you go… this is is a nice looking ang hae durian…

Then the XO….

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And then everything in between and then the Mao Shan Wang

Delicious Mau Shan Wang

Delicious Mau Shan Wang

What was that about the durian shell enzymes again?

What was that about the durian shell enzymes again?

Photogenic durians all of them. Check out this tiny seed.

Seeds so small you have to pick it out of your mouth

Seeds so small you have to pick it out of your mouth

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Mao Shan Wang Durian

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.

Durians for sale in Kemang, Jakarta

Durian Stall in Kemang, Jakarta

While walking around hot and dusty Kemang, I spied a little mobile truck stall parked on a the corner of a petrol station selling durians. I  had to pause to peruse the wares.

Charmingly named  Faris Durians, it was clear upon closer inspection that they were undeniably from Thailand.

Then I asked about the Medan durians and whether there was a difference? The seller smiled and said it depends on taste (polite way of maybe saying yes, the Medan ones are not very good…). It was clear that the Medan ones were smaller than the Thai ones, and for sure he’d want to sell the imported stuff first.

Faris Durians: Monthong and Medan

Durian Goods for Sale at Jakarta International Airport Terminal 2

While seeing AR off at Terminal 2, I spied this little shop selling some durian based confectionary and products. The shopkeepers permitted me to take some photos to share on this blog.

Durian and Jackfruit products

I am not very sure what these are exactly, maybe dodol? Anyway if anyone has tried them please tell me what it is like.

Durian dodol

Here’s the durian dodol long sticks (sticky durian cooked cake).

The stall can be found at the Departure Hall E3.

Local confectionary stall at airport

Terminal 2, CGK at Gate E3

And the taste of Durian Lingers on… in Singapore

Hello Hello well Durian shops and stalls are getting a little more upmarket and creative in Singapore now. I was on my way to a petrol station up Bukit Timah when we rolled by a row of shoplots and I spied a new shop there that I hadn’t seen before. It was 9am in the morning and the shop didn’t look open yet, but there was no mistaking the signboard that advertised its products. I had no idea of course, whether it was a durian shop selling the actual fruit, or perhaps a shop which sells products made from durian (like the Durian Durian store in KL).

All the more reason to visit.

It was a week later after I spied the shop that I managed to check it out. TW was back from Chicago and on the food hit list, Durian ranked right after Bak Kut Teh. As there wasn’t much time (TW was only in town for about 6 days), there was a sense of urgency about the acquisition of our tasty experiences. First we went to Yu Hua Bak Kut Teh for our peppery consomme and various equally delicious side accompaniments and then it was a 20 minute drive to search out this durian place that none of us had tried before.

Driving up Bukit Timah looking for a shop lot at night is trickier than you might think, given that it is Singapore and that everything is usually well organized. At the moment, there’s a fair amount of construction going on for the new MRT train line and also the expansion of the canal. So between the two on-going projects, there’s a lot to look out for while driving as it is. Anyway, this shop is after 6th Avenue but before King Albert Park (if that helps) and you’ll see the shop lit up at night before you need to turn in (that’s a well thought out system).

Durian Lingers, Singapore

So we arrived at around 10pm and found the place to be quite active. There were tables and stools set up outside the shop and 2 tables tucked away inside the shop. Since the tables outside were all occupied, we headed inside where there was also the comfort of mild air-conditioning. There are large durian posters on the wall and the whole fruits displayed on a well lit rack. There is an assortment of fruit for those who aren’t durian lovers too which is a good idea.

I left the group at the table and went to peruse the shop and goods. I noticed a chilled counter with the durian already removed from its husk and displayed in polystyrene containers wrapped in cling film.

Now in a new joint, I do enjoy being able to peruse and try before being pressed to purchase the most expensive item in the house (which is the way it usually is with many durian vendors). Being able to see the fruit to get a sense of texture and color is far better than trying to guess what it is like inside by examining the husk.

The browsing continued uninterrupted for a while until the nice cheerful storekeeper came round and asked me what I wanted.

Durians pre-packed in the chiller

Well, what I wanted was to be able to look at the durian close up so that I could decide which I wanted to try. The light in the cooler can be deceiving, it’s already a golden yellow which makes the fruit look luscious no matter what condition it probably is in. So I tentatively asked him what species and what he recommends. With a wide grin, a punk hair style and a chubby sort of shape, he puts you at ease and is one of the least intimidating durian sellers I’ve met. Not that other durian sellers come across particularly scary, but hey, it is a tough business and the guys that run the stalls are usually seasoned with a large dose of sweat and sunshine.

“Which is the best?” I asked.

“Oh all have different taste, but of course Mau Sang Wang is the best” Cherub said. “Which one do you want?”

Prices for various durians

“Well maybe we can get one pack of each to start with first and see what we like” I started pointing “how about this one, and this one…”

Ok” he said picking out the packet I pointed at through the glass panel.

“The Mau Sang Wang I can’t tell , do you think you can take out a few to show me?” I asked trying my luck.

Cherub volunteered “Why don’t I pick one for you? What type you like? Sweet or bitter?”

“ooooh, the more bitter the better” I emphasized, “how do you know which one, did you try it before packing?”

He gave me the widest grin and said “I know because I am the one who opens and packs them, but I haven’t eaten durian in 2 years already”

There was nothing else to do but trust him, and I have heard all durian sellers tell me that before, maybe because they shouldn’t be consuming their own products (conflict of interest?) or maybe because they’re genuinely avoiding the ‘heatiness’ of consuming durian on a daily basis (durian is also highly addictive and fattening if you eat lots of it every day).

Well the prices seemed reasonable and the durians looked well packed without any mess or destruction to the shape or skin of the fruit. And it looked like pretty much everyone sitting at the tables outside had ordered the fruit in these boxes.

And so our little feast arrived. Not very impressive looking is it. The durians look somewhat anemic and there doesn’t appear to be much difference in tone between the D24, the XO and the Mau Sang Wang.

“Don’t worry” Cherub had told me, “if you think its not nice, I can exchange for another one”. Fair enough.

I started by reminding everyone that we should commence our journey with the D24, then proceeding to the XO and finally the Mau Sang Wang. Durian is somewhat like wine, you should save the strongest flavors for last, but fortunately it is unlike wine as you’re not already half drowsy by the alcohol by the time you get to the richest flavors. The D24 was typical and nothing to shout about, good introduction for the un-inducted. The XO held its own but pales in comparison to others that I’ve had before. The Mau Sang Wang, however, was decently tasty and had a bitter edge to it which was pleasing to the palate. Not bad at all.

It was the Mau Sang Wang that led us into the ravine of desire… to think “hey, if the fruit in the packs taste this good, wouldn’t the fresh fruit out of the husk be even more delicious and impressive?”

Mau Sang Wang Whole Fruit

So SW put thought into words and suggested I attempt to bring the best Mau Sang Wang in the shop to our table.

As Cherub was busy serving other guests, a more senior version of Cherub came to assist. He wore glasses and looked a more studious version of the two. I told him what I wanted and he said no problem, he’d find me a really good one. And here it is, a small-ish cutesy Mau Sang Wang with the soft exterior and almost negligible seeds. SW couldn’t wait to tuck into it and I took this photo just in the nick of time before it was rapidly consumed.

When we split the section to reveal more seeds, the inside fruit was like stiff paper to touch and the texture was like plastic, too dry to eat. We returned the fruit and got another. Unfortunately, though the second fruit had better texture, it was the first fruit that had the better flavor. All in all, getting the Mau Sang Wang in the packs was definitely the best value for money, and the fruit also has time to ripen a little more while being chilled gives it a velvety feel of ice-cream.

A beautiful piece of Mau sang wang

So we ended the evening very full and fairly satisfied having all stuffed ourselves silly.

And so, would we go back there? The alternatives being Geylang, Dempsey and other stalls further away? The answer is yes and it’s great to know where to go to satisfy a craving in a decent neighborhood where you don’t have to worry about parking or getting ripped off and pressured to buy the largest fruit on the shelf.

A bit more about Durian Lingers: Been in Bukit Timah for the last couple of years, another branch at Joo Chiat in South Eastern Singapore. Open from 11 am to 11pm but they do close when there are no durians to sell. So be aware that this can happen during certain periods although this is infrequent as it is largely possible to get durians all year round. Check with them by phone if you’re not sure.

Durian Lingers

833 Bukit Timah Road,#01-08, Royal Ville (S) 279887 (map)
Tel: 6763 8382

Durian Stall in Jelatek (Part 2)

Durians for a bargain

Well you didn’t think that we’d stop there did you? How could we leave any stone unturned! Of course we had to walk over to the busy durian stall, to check out both the durians and the scene itself.

In the fifteen or twenty minutes that we had spent at stall #1, it looked as though the queue at stall #2 had not abated. People of all ages were standing by the stall appearing to be busy negotiating, pointing, sniffing, poking and some were just standing around and staring. Including us for the first minute or so. The peace did not last long. The service was just too good. Within the next minute, one of the stall keepers in a striped shirt that reminded me of “Where’s Wally” sauntered up to me and opened the conversation with a greeting and

That's my durian right there

asked me what I wanted (well, its obvious what I wanted, but what he meant was what type of durian). I asked him what he had and he said the best of the shelf was the D24. Hmm. D24 is a well known species and pretty consistent in its flavors. “How much is it?” I asked him not too loudly so that I didn’t inspire the other clients to do the same. He said “Normally it is 12 RM per kilo but I’ll give it to you for 11 RM per kilo”.

Well, I reasoned that if its RM 10 per kilo for a Kampong durian then RM 11 for a D24 is probably okay. Some people have told me that Jalan Jelatek is famous for overcharging for the durians, but hey anyone who complains should check out SS2 and Jalan Imbi where it definitely isn’t cheaper. I suppose its all about property prices and location, location, location. If you’re willing to venture a bit further out, prices drop by half or more.

3 for 10 from the bin, or 2 for 10 from the shelf

“Ok” I nodded, “How many” he asked, “how about two?”. “No, just one and make it a good one”.

“How about this one” He said sniffing then expertly slicing into the durian husk at all the right points to expose the flesh in every vesicle. I was impressed. It all looked a rich delicious yellow. “Okay” I said and he popped the durian on the weigh scale and said it would be RM24. While we were arranging the right amount of change, he popped the entire durian, husk and all into a plastic bag.

“No Encik, can you please put it into one of your take away boxes?”

Without hesitation, he took the durian round into the stall away from the crowd where there was a table and started opening up the durian to put it into the boxes.

The cause of all the chaos, cheap packets of durian

It was just starting the drizzle with a light rain. “Thank you” he said handing the bag with a two boxes inside to me, “please come again”.

So polite he was, I think I’ll have to.

Note: This stall is by the main road and has no tables or sidewalk so don’t expect to sit and savor your durian. You have to take it away or eat it standing by the road, just like how everyone else was doing it that day.