What’s a durian like if it has no smell?

One of the reasons why many people (including some of my own family members) don’t like durian, is that they claim that the smell alone puts them off. Not just the smell that hits you when you’re approaching the stall, not just the smell that hits you when you first cut open a ripened fruit, but the smell of the fruit once digested which returns to remind you in the form of either a loud or discrete burp….

Chantaburi Province- Non smelly durian cultivation

Chantaburi Province- Non smelly durian cultivation

Since we’ve decided that there’s got to be a way to convince my various family members to become converts to the durian aficionado’s club, I started looking into durians with no smell. Not surprisingly, enterprising researchers have already been working on this project for a couple of years and come up with some hybrids which have less or little smell. Named the “Chantaburi No. 1”, this species of Thai durian is already in existence although I have no idea whether it is as yet sold at Siam Paragon’s supermarkets. The scientist Dr. Songpol Somsri is in the process (well, he’s been in the process for 20 years) of designing one which will yield a durian with no smell and (beat this) no thorns.

Distinguishing durians from jackfruits and soursops just got more challenging… no smell and no thorns. Perhaps we should name them after the band “Duran Duran” since we can’t really call it duri-an anymore…

The Chantaburi No. 1 link above has a great audio clip with an interview with Dr. Songpol, which is really funny and I highly recommend you click on it and give it a listen 🙂

My baby durian seed is germinating…

I was trying to find information on growing durian seeds on the internet but I have to say that it has been a futile attempt to obtain detailed advice. My own instincts told me that a tropical fruit would need high humidity, lots of water and preferably healthy doses of sunshine (duh).

The two durian seeds I brought home more than a month ago now went into a nice plastic container which I had lined with cotton wool soaked in water.

Hee-lllloooo“, my sister exclaimed when she saw it, “Whaddya think you’re doing, growing tau-geh?”

(Tau geh by the way, are beansprouts, which are also by the way, her least favorite food maybe one notch below durian)

Ignoring her, I insisted that my technique had merit and would work for any seed with germination potential. Imagine my horror when I discovered that one of the seeds (flat-shaped and rather mis-figured) had turned black in three days and looked like it was really undergoing nature’s most efficient necrosis. Naturally, I feared for the other seed and whether it would suffer a similar infection and fate. Surprisingly, the seed just stayed as it was for a long while. I just kept watering it (and occasionally talking to it) keeping my hopes up that all that water would not be in vain.

I was rewarded (well at least it is somewhat satisfying) when I spotted the first signs of germination. A wriggly-viney thick green root suddenly erupted from one side of the seed and looked as though it wasn’t quite sure which way was up or down. Subsequently, the root did manoever itself into the cotton wool pads but didn’t make much growth progress after that. Well, we all grow in spurts don’t we. How do we encourage the seed to take the next step?

Since SW was very free one afternoon, we decided to properly pot the seed into soil and fed it with lots and lots of water. You can imagine how pleased we were when the root clearly took hold and grew…

No more commentary, just pictures from here on!

Durian Seed germinating in a pot

Durian Seed germinating in a pot

Check out the thick viney almost furry stem of the baby durian plant

Check out the thick viney almost furry stem of the baby durian plant

This has become something of a home science project. I’ve never really had green fingers so I’ll keep you posted as to whether this little durian plant gets any further along in its development.

Durian Feast in Malaysia 25th July

Dear Blog readers,

If you are in Malaysia, free for the weekend and also craving for durians, you might like to know about this upcoming event. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of madding crowds but if you’re up for an interesting durian consumption scheme, then this might just be the thing for you…

ALL THE DURIAN YOU CAN EAT

If you can’t resist the king of fruit, mark July 25 on your calendar and set your GPS system straight for Bukit Gantang. That’s where PUTRI ZANINA will be again, licking her fingers at the annual Jom Makan Durian Festival

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THE car in front of us makes a sudden swerve to the side of the road and stops. On any other occasion, we would have been angry with such a thoughtless driver but not today.

After all, just moments ago we had done almost the same thing (almost because we did signal before pulling to a halt). So did almost every other driver along that stretch of road. What’s happening?

It’s fruit season… and we’re in durian land! So forgive us for being selfish drivers who can’t help but follow our nose, and our heart, for that luscious, sweet yellow flesh.

The road in Bukit Gantang is flanked by rows of stalls offering not only the “best” durian you can ever find but also rambutan, mangosteen and langsat – all in season now.

Bukit Gantang is, after all, the venue for the annual Jom Makan Durian Festival or the Great Durian Festival that has lured thousands of durian lovers since the event was first held three years ago.

Many find it hard to resist this all-you-can-eat free durian feast though you’d have to jostle with the crowd. But there’s actually more than enough for everyone. Last year, it was reported that 15 lorry-loads of durian or some 16,000 fruit were savoured in just two hours.

This year, the number is expected to be even bigger. So we’d rather be ahead of the crowd.

Good Old Days

As soon as July comes, we make our way to this small town in Perak, just half an hour’s drive from the royal town of Kuala Kangsar. Instead of taking the North-South highway from Ipoh and exiting at Changkat Jering to go to Bukit Gantang, we decide to take the more scenic old inland road from Kuala Kangsar.

This route passes through Padang Rengas (another durian haven) and Bukit Berapit which is about 10 minutes’ drive to Bukit Gantang. For me, it’s a road of nostalgia. When I was small, my parents would take us kids to Bukit Berapit for picnics near the river surrounded by the rolling hills of the Bintang Range.

Now, however, I could hardly see the river. In the old days, as you drove along the road, you would see the clear waters cascading over boulders and forming natural pools for swimming.

Cars, lorries and motorcycles would be parked on the road side where there were many food stalls too. Drivers making the long journey from the north to south or vice-versa (pre-North-South highway) would stop at Bukit Berapit to take a dip in the cold mountain waters or have a refreshing cuppa before continuing their journey.

Sadly, you don’t see such scenes anymore and you have to go further in from the road to have a good view of the river.

There’s a telecom tower marking the spot where you can still see a good stretch of the river. There are signs of logging and parts of the land have been cleared for a double rail track project. But the river water still looks enticing enough to take a dip in and that’s quite comforting.

Traditional Noodles

Near Bukit Gantang, we see a stall “advertising” laksa pulas, so we make a stop. Laksa Buyong, the name of the stall, is apparently famous for laksa pulas (made by using a traditional noodle-making tool that you have to turn). The coarse, pale white noodles are made without preservatives.

Instead of ikan kembong or mackerel as is usually used for Malay-style laksa, flaked sardine is added to the piquant gravy. A bowl of the laksa comes with sliced cili padi and lime. The verdict? Absolutely hot, palate-burning, mouth-watering and tangy.

Much as we enjoy the laksa, our minds are still set on durian.

Roadside Fiesta

Bukit Gantang durian, according to the locals, is one of the best in the country. Roadside stalls offer several varieties, including D24, D99 and MDUR, that are grown in the little hamlets in Bukit Gantang and surrounding areas.

Like in previous years, there’s a glut this year, so you can get durian quite cheaply. A medium-sized fruit is priced at between RM3 and RM4. Small ones sell for as little as RM1 each, so it’s not surprising to see car boots filled to the brim with not just durian but also mangosteen and petai (stinky beans).

Well, the durian stinks too, so imagine the journey home with durian and petai in the boot. What a pong!

For us, the joy of buying durian includes eating it on the spot. The stall keeper happily opens a few and we dig in, enjoying every bit of the sweet, creamy flesh.

At other stalls, most customers are doing the same thing and it looks like one big durian feast all the way. The colours of the different types of fruits – green, red, yellow and more – add to the festive feel.

With the smell of durian drifting in from the car boot and the lingering aroma on our fingers and our breath (arrgh!), we leave in a happy mood.

We see some signboards to Long Jaafar Mausoleum and to an old railway station site but we decide to give these historical places a miss. Somehow, durian and history don’t sound like a good mix.

There’s no mistaking the air of history in Bukit Gantang but we’re too smitten by the king of fruit to think of anything else.

Bits Of History

Larut District’s eminent son, Long Ja’afar, created history when he found tin in the area in 1840. This started the tin boom and, later, wars between two Chinese miner clans, Hai San and Ghee Hin.

Bukit Gantang was Long Ja’afar’s administrative centre. His son, Ngah Ibrahim, took over the business 16 years later and built his residence, fort and store in Matang, known today as Kota Ngah Ibrahim. This fort and Long Ja’afar’s Mausoleum are two of the area’s historical attractions.

But for now, it’s durians we’re after. We are drawn to a signboard directing us to Ladang Bukit Gantang. Perhaps we’ll find a durian orchard there.

Fruit & Flowers Haven

But what we find really bowls us over. Not only do we drive through a durian valley but we also pass other fruit orchards including rambutan, ciku, mangosteen, jackfruit, cempedak, papaya, mangosteen, dragon fruit and mata kucing.

The looming Bintang Range stands guard over this green sanctuary. Cold winds give us a chill as we alight from the car and walk along a garden of blooming hibiscus, cannas and heliconias. The plants “fence” a brick bungalow house fringed with fish ponds.

This is the house of Robitah Zainuddin and her husband Md Tarmizi Md Noor. Robitah is the “celebrated” farmer-cum-entrepreneur who co-ordinates the increasingly popular Bukit Gantang Homestay and the Jom Makan Durian Festival. She won the national-level Successful Farmer Award 2004 while Tarmizi won the Successful Livestock Entrepreneur, Perak 2002.

Within the sprawling fruit farm and flower garden are a chicken farm and a fish farm. Tarmizi rears and sells chicken (some 70,000 birds annually) as well as prized arowana and fish fry for breeding.

Homestay Model

The couple is now reaping the fruits of their labour over the last nine years. Their home in Kampung Lorong Makam Long Jaafar is the reception area for farm visits and showcases facilities available in the 30 other homes that are part of the Bukit Gantang Homestay programme.

The sample homestay room in their bungalow is simply furnished, with wooden furniture and a fan. Outside the house is a clean flush toilet.

The couple would direct visitors to the other homes if they are interested in staying and experiencing life in the kampung. This is one of the ways Robitah gets the villagers involved in the homestay programme.

It’s a full-time undertaking. When we are there, a vanload of tourists from Holland arrives. It’s starting to drizzle but, led by Robitah, the tourists walk in the rain and soak in the cool atmosphere as they pass the pokok pinang walk lined with the tall palm trees and later, the fragrant herb garden. We lose sight of them as they turn towards the foot of the mountain.

After our durian feast, we are hoping to burn off some extra fat. So off we go in the rain, winding our way through rows of ferns and fruiting rambutan trees.

Jom Makan Durian Festival 2009

Mark July 25 in your calendar for this year’s Jom Makan Durian Festival. Invited to grace the event organised by the Perak Tourism Action Council and the Homestay Bukit Gantang Committee are Raja Muda Perak Raja Nazrin Shah and his wife, Raja Puan Besar Perak Tuanku Zara Salim as well as the Perak Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir. For details, call 019-574 0767/05-255 0413.

Homestay Bukit Gantang

The homestay packages include stays in Malay homes, Malay-style food, village tour on bicycle/motorcycle, livestock feeding, rubber tapping, visits to agro-farm and cottage industry (bedak sejuk, kerepek and cookies), natural hotsprings, mountain streams, historical places, traditional games and cultural performances including a mock Malay wedding.

Visits to nearby attractions can be arranged, including Taiping’s heritage buildings, Taiping Night Safari, Matang Mangrove Swamp, Larut Hill and Kuala Gula Bird Sanctuary.

For details, call Robitah at 019-574 0767 or 05-855 49 67 or email bghomestay@gmail.com

Ladang Bukit Gantang

The farm includes a durian valley, garden trails with fragrant garden, herbal garden, heliconia/canna/hibiscus walk, fern walk, pinang walk, water apple canopy and water garden. Activities include farm tours and fruit buffet. For guided tours, call Robitah at the same number above.

How To Get There

Bukit Gantang is about 10 minutes’ drive from Changkat Jering toll exit from the North-South Expressway. It’s about two hours from Kuala Lumpur, one hour from Penang and 45 minutes from Ipoh. You may also take the old road from Kuala Kangsar, a drive that takes about 30 minutes.

• Pictures by ZAABA JOHAR, Muhaizan Yahya and Ikhwan Munir

Dan’s Frozen Durian from a Supermarket in Portland, Oregon

Dan sent me the photo of the frozen durian he found in his local supermarket. I especially like the label that says “Ingredients: Durian.” And also the fact that they recommend storage below -18 degrees Celsius. I think it doesn’t have any preservatives and I’m quite amazed that it is seedless.

I just had a thought that maybe Dan could have planted his own durian tree.. but its certainly not going to happen with a durian from this packaging anyway. (I have a durian seed growing in a little pot! See how long it lasts…)

Dan's Frozen Durian

Dan's Frozen Durian

Heavenly Delicious Tauwa Durian – A Prize Find in PJ

Chinese and Malay Durian Names

Chinese and Malay Durian Names

Before we left on our short trip overseas (1 week in the UK Summertime!), SW and I went on a late night search for durian to satisfy a durian craving. This expedition started at 10pm (about the time I left work) and our first stop was to our fave stall in Imbi. Unfortunately (or perhaps not so unfortunately as you’ll see why in a short while), the Jalan Imbi stall was closed for the night. It was probably either a really quiet evening or an extraordinarily busy one as he’s usually open til pretty late.

From this failed attempt, we decided to swing out to PJ via the Federal highway (just down the road) and visit our next favorite durian stall, Greenview durians*. It must have been a fairly quiet evening as far as durians go, there was ample parking by the stall, one table occupied by 3 guys and the owner with several polystyrene packets of durians open (for airing) who were merely sitting there having a bit of a chat and a cigarette. We were warmly welcomed by the owner and the owner’s son and the son “Da Wei” (probably David in English, but it translates as “Big Tail” in Chinese) waved us over to an empty rickety bench – like the ones you sit  at barbeques but a lot less sophisticated. We took our places opposite each other and swung our heads towards the hanging durians which looked as though they were queuing up to be eaten by us.

Big Tail being a cheerful and smiley young man came over and asked us in a very polite but casual maitre’d style what we would like to have that evening. (Translation in progress from here on) “What’s your best?” We asked. “Well,” he said, “the premium is certainly the Mau Sang Wang which we a few good ones, would you like to try?”

Having journeyed such a distance for durian, we couldn’t wait a moment longer and said yes, the Mau Sang Wang please. The durian was selected, opened and the intense yellow colour was greeted by us with delight, we just couldn’t wait to sink our fingers into the luscious durian flesh. When we were about three quarters of the way through, SW – who was then in the mood for novelty and more durian– proceed to ask Big Tail what other types of durian we should have now. Big Tail did not hesitate in responding that there are groups of durian species and flavours that can be combined and others which shouldn’t be mixed. “The Mau Sang Wang, Tauwa and Ang Hae are in the same class” he said, adding ” its the strong and good afternotes in these durians which are equally powerful. Other durians if eaten after that will be much poorer in taste and will seem flat and unsatisfying.”

“Fine,” SW replied, “What is this Tauwa and can we try it?”

The Tauwa - My new found favorite

The Tauwa - My new found favorite

The Tauwa was placed in front of us with a great flourish and opened with great gusto. “It’s milky”, Big Tail said adding “and a bit bitter but definitely milky and a very special taste”. We couldn’t agree more with him, the flesh was almost iridescent and milky but the taste of it was par excellence and did not disappoint. Typically, one sees a pale coloration of the flesh and gets the feeling that the taste of the durian will be somewhat suspect and lightweight. However, the Tauwa is truly in a class of its own and distinguishes itself far from other palers. Not much else to say here apart from the fact that we devoured it in its entirety (it wasn’t terribly big) and kept a few of the seeds to grow (more on this in another entry).

Colors belie the intense flavor and aromas

Colors belie the intense flavor and aromas

Well, I think it appropriate that you see the difference in color between the Mau Sang Wang durian and the Tauwa so here it is… look at the difference in intensity? Both flavors were markedly different but equally strong. In terms of texture, both were equally smooth, creamy and finger dripping. Note that the Tauwa is a slimmer, lomger shaped durian than the Mau Sang Wang which tends to have a rounder, fuller figure.

After the amazing Tauwa and the Mau Sang Wang, SW felt they were small and succint but certainly not sufficient. “What else?… How about let’s try the D24 that’s hanging over there.”

Big Tail responded “Do you want the sunshine D24 or the normal D24?”. “Eh? What’s the difference?” We asked. “There is a difference in the taste and colour”.

Durians with a serious tan

Durians with a serious tan

“Sunshine durians are the ones which hang on the outermost of the tree and are exposed to the sunlight most of the time and the exposure to the sun turns their skin brown, like a tan”. “These sunshine durians usually have a sweetened sun-ripened flavour, quite different to the shaded durian fruits, which typically remain green all around.” I thought this was interesting and had never thought about it before. It made sense that the durians that are green must indeed be shaded by the leaves or the tree trunks itself. What’s interesting is that the durian itself is like the Michael Jackson song “Black or White” (sorry, had to pay a little tribute here) as the sunshine D24 is burned a bautiful brown on one side but completely a verdant green on the other side. Flavour wise, the durians with a tan did taste a little sweeter than their lowland cousins but it just might be due to the slight dehydration and good soil drainage that concentrates the flavours.

After devouring 4 durians, SW and I decided that we had to call it quits. We would have liked to have another Tauwa but there wasn’t any left. We also gave Big Tail the credit that you shouldn’t really eat D24s after you’ve had the premium grade durians but all the same, it is nice to have variety.

The conclusion? The ideal number of people to enjoy durians with is 3 or 4, but if you’re a connoisseur who only wants the best, then I recommend that you only share the Tauwa with 1 person (and make that a special person).

*Greenview durians is a name we have given this stall as its right by the famous Greenview Chinese restaurant in Section 17.

Durian Tours Make Headlines in Singapore

Imagine my surprise the other day when I opened up the daily newspaper in Singapore and found an article on durians.

Singapore Durian Lovers Head North

Singapore Durian Lovers Head North

Entitled ” Durian Lovers Head North on Day Tours”, heading north from Singapore could only mean trips to Malaysia. “ALL that way for Durian???” ( I hear you ask!) In a way it is quite crazy that people would travel from far and wide just to eat a fruit. But of course all our blog readers already know that durian is certainly not “just” a fruit.

Well, in times of recession, travel agents certainly have to get creative. Instead of tours to Vietnam, Indonesia or further, why not build up a tour package for Singaporean durian lovers to get away from the city, venture out with a loved one and savour an amorous* fruit together?

The upside is that a durian plantation tour is a bit like getting back to nature, walking among fruit trees and eating fruits which are in the vicinity of the tree that bore them. Fresh air, exercise and a delectable experience can be had for less than 60 Singapore dollars according to this article.

The potential downsides seem to be the variability in fruits offered at any one plantation (many stalls source from multiple plantations and hence will have a variety for the purchaser) while the single plantation may not have more than one or two varieties. Further, if a tour group or high-end buyer has been there before you, the high quality durians may have already been consumed or purchased leaving the day-trippers feeling a little duped into eating durians which perhaps aren’t the premium grade.

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Separately, with the durian glut in season some stalls have been offering a “All You Can Eat” durian buffet. I believe in the saying you get what you pay for, this is true usually for service and it is certainly true for durians. There are probably enough aficionados out there who are willing to pay top dollar for good fruit most days of the week, leaving the mediocre or not so good ones for the durian “buffet”. So if you decide to go on one of these trips, make the priority a learning tour about durian orchards and trees and its environment rather than focussing on purely consuming good fruit and I suspect one will be less disappointed with the outcome.

Personally, I would choose quality over quantity, its always much more satisfying to eat one or two good ones of each type than a feast of unripe or bland durians.

Kiss

Kiss

*Why amorous I hear you ask… well if you’ve ever eaten a durian with a partner who does not take a liking to the smell, don’t expect to be getting any kisses, hugs and you risk getting booted out of your room. The contrary also applies, if you share the fruit together, the aromas sort of cancel out and its a great couple appreciation and sharing experience. So before you go, do check if your mate/spouse/lover appreciates durian as much as you do, or it could be a source of tension in the relationship!