Durian Mooncake Madness

Mooncake Festival this year falls on September 19th (Thursday). If you’ve been anywhere near the hotels, malls and chinese restaurants, I have no doubt that you have been marketed to or fed mooncakes by that particular retailer. It’s almost impossible to avoid the mooncake craze in Singapore. The flavors used to be very “traditional”. Lotus seed paste with melon seed (now quite a rarity). Lotus seed paste with single/double/quadruple yolk(s). Assorted nuts and ham. Now, there are so many varieties that if we brought an ancient Chinese person from many dynasties ago back to life, he’d be surprised and spoilt for choice. Pastry chefs vying to outdo one another became more creative. Snowskin mooncakes became a raging success, these unbaked chilled mooncakes are closer to ice-cream in texture and are more delicate. This paved the way for increasingly dessert like creations, such as durian mooncake, cempadak mooncake, sesame, yam mooncake etc.

Mooncake Menu

Durian Mooncake Menu

At Goodwood Hotel, it wasn’t just durian mooncakes. It was Mao Shan Wang Mooncake, or D24 mooncake, Red Prawn, D88 or Butter mooncake. Perhaps this pastry chef is from Penang, or perhaps the Goodwood received many guests from Penang. They’ve been offering these for a few years and I guess it’s proved popular, most probably as gifts.

Snowskin Durian Mooncakes

Snowskin Durian Mooncakes

The coloring differentiates the flavors, I thought it was an interesting choice by the chef to make the Mao Shan Wang an almost ivory white, the D24 a golden yellow and the Red Prawn, well, Red. (If you’re a regular durian consumer, you would know that real MSW’s are always rich yellow in color, more so than the D24’s. Maybe a lighter color denotes a more delicate taste and price). Anyway, I reckon they attached a scarcity value to the mooncakes and made them great gifts. They were flying off the shelves into little cool packs when I was there on Saturday afternoon. People in the queue ahead of me were purchasing five or six boxes at a go. I didn’t observe anyone buying the giant versions though. At around SGD 90 per box (no discounts even if you hold a Citibank card), you’d better be sharing it with someone special. *Many other hotel/restaurants have also followed suit and are offering durian based mooncakes. I admit that I would prefer to eat the fruit unadulterated.

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Sydney Durian Alarm

This news piece was pretty funny…. Durians can sometimes smell like gas. I wonder what sort of “lab tests” they were running… probably more like taste tests or a feast.

SYDNEY: Building security and emergency staff in Sydney have raised a stink about a trial consignment of Malaysian chilled durians shipped to the Harbour City, mistaking the odoriferous fruit’s smell for a gas leak.
Agriculture Malaysia staff have taken the misunderstanding on the nose, allaying the Aussies’ concerns if not their dislike of the pungent odour.

Malaysia’s Sydney Consulate agriculture director Muhammad Rudy Khairudin Mohd Nor said the ‘gas’ alert followed Agriculture Malaysia staff opening 10 packs of ‘Musang King’ and ‘D24′ durians at 2 pm for lab tests in their Sydney CBD office.

The strong, pungent smell of the durians went into the ventilation system and reached the next office on the 15th floor of the Market St building.

“The staff in the adjoining office, all Caucasians, panicked because they thought there was a gas leak … they summoned the emergency services. The whole floor was evacuated within minutes,” he said.

Muhammad Rudy said security and emergency staff arrived at the 15th floor to investigate and, sniffing out evidence, ended up at the consulate seeking answers.

“We explained that the smell came from the durians. The officers were amazed and puzzled how similar the smell was to gas, although they were convinced after we showed them the fruit and how it smells,” he added.

Muhammad Rudy said three more Australian technical officers took up the scent about three hours later “They roamed around the office to ensure that the smell is really not from leaking gas.”

He said the consulate decided to avoid further misunderstandings by moving the durians and the lab testing to the Sydney Malaysia Hall students’ accommodation.

“We did not get any complaint from anyone. In fact, the smell was very well received by the Malaysian students … who had not smelt fresh durian for a long time. Who would have thought that exporting durians to Australia could be so challenging?” he said.

Meanwhile, Malaysian Lasallians in Melbourne are planning a Lasallian Durian Festival in November, hopefully to be held at the SP Setia’s exclusive development site in St Kilda Road.

The durian is very popular in Sydney but is yet to make its mark in Melbourne, the home of 70,000 Malaysians and 9,000 students. – Bernama

http://www.thestar.com.my/News/Nation/2013/09/06/Durians-cause-a-stink.aspx

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.