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.