Durian desperation in Seoul, Korea

My friend JH is a durian lover. I still remember one day in Singapore many years ago when we had copious amounts of white wine at the Wine Room, then excellent durian at Dempsey car park. We were so full (and she was mildly tipsy) that the chilli crab for dinner went untouched for several hours until the effects of full/ drunkenness wore off.

She went to Seoul to visit her parents over Christmas and sent me this picture.

  
She said that they bought a whole frozen Monthong durian from the Shinsegae supermarket in Myeoungdong. The defrosting took an entire day then they were able to peel the husk back as gently as an ripe banana. 

For less than USD30, she reckoned she got a bargain in Seoul and said it was delicious (well, at least it wasn’t disappointing).

Head over there if you need a durian fix!

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Durian Wine… Is it worth the effort?

Lindsay recently wrote an article for Winemag on the research into durian wine.

It’s sometimes strange what research gets funded and why. Usually a committee sits down to work out the merits to justify whether a project is feasible, has the potential to be commercialised or contribute to the good of society at some point. Sometimes, institutions are flush with cash and the Principal investigator gets a free hand to do as he/ she fancies. 

In Singapore, this seems to be the case with a project involving the research into turning durian into wine. It sounds like the personal interest of a particular researcher to find any project to work on. I find it hard to believe that the economics justify the costs.
A quick comparison of the original fruit source of wine (the juicy, delicious grape) as our comparison.

  1. Durian is an expensive starting product and non-uniform fruit. Grapes which are grown by vegetative propagation are more consistent branch to branch, vineyard to vineyard. Not the case for durian fruits whose flavours vary between branches and trees.
  2. Durians aren’t naturally juicy. Grapes contain a lot of juice- great for making a drink.
  3. Durians don’t ferment naturally to produce something tasty. Grapes are the naturally occurring fermenting starter, wine making was discovered through a natural process.
  4. Durians are not popular with everyone.. I know many people who refuse excellent durian, but very few who refuse a mediocre grape. 
  5. The whole point of a grape wine is to appreciate its grape flavours mixed in with various other soil influences which the grape absorbs through its growth stages. I can’t imagine tasting a durian and sensing the soil flavours.. It just wouldn’t work for me. 
  6. All in all there must be many chemicals and steps involved to make something unpalatable into something worth drinking… Sounds pretty artificial to me.

This research works as a novelty perhaps, but I can’t see this making any real commercial headway. 

Perhaps if the research premise is to learn about what enzymes could breakdown the aromatic esters that make the durian scent so powerfully special so that you can market a durian deodorant or breath mints… Now that I can understand. 

Dr. Lu, please give me a shout if you need ideas in this direction.

News Alert: Semarang Durian Fest, Jan 23-24th, Indonesia

This announcement was published in the Jakarta Post (local Indonesian newspaper). 

 Apparently a durian fest complete with durian and rambutan eating competitions will be held in Semarang, a city in Central Java. Semarang, famous for its Jamu and beautiful batik, has a sub district known as Mijen as a regional retail and distribution Center. This is really in the boonies by the way. I reckon it’ll take at least an hour from the city in good traffic conditions.

it sounds like a fixed price fruit buffet is on offer. No mention as to the type of durians but I’m sure it’ll be fun for the locals (riotous celebration as stated) nonetheless.

Durians at City Super, Causeway Bay

I was going up the escalator towards Lane Crawford from Toast box when the fragrance eau durian hit me. Initially I spent the few seconds of escalator time peering around me, wondering if it was second hand fumes from a recent consumer (sounds gross but this happens all the time), or a dessert stall from the food court manufacturing some durian pancake dessert. 

I just had to go down again to see the durians for myself. So back down the escalator it was.

There it was in the front seasonal fruit section. The “Malay Durian mountain cat“as labelled. Aka Musang king, Mao Shan Wang.

  
Nice long stems topped off with cotton to preserve freshness.

  

Are you salivating yet?

  Very evenly round, beautiful spikes.

  
Expensive though.

But it is City Super. Known in Hong Kong as a premium supermarket for all things good and high quality.

These durians were only for sale whole, no packaged fruit in sight. So I have no idea if it looks good on the inside. But that’s the gamble with durian.

First Delectable Durians of 2016

On the 1st of January, AR was in Singapore and persistent in querying when we’d be conducting our next durian expedition. “Well, I guess it has to be tomorrow then as we leave on the 3rd.”

After settling ZI down for a nap in her car seat, we picked up AR from his hotel and decided to try our luck at Dempsey. Nope. A quick spin around showed us an empty stall with no truck, durians or people in sight. It looked like an abandoned stall at 3.30pm.

Two more options, my auntie’s favourite Yio Chu Kang dudes or a cruise around Geylang for anything on offer. I rang the Yio Chu Kang dudes. 

“Our durian truck comes at 6pm. If you can come by 6 or 6.30 I can save you some good ones” he said.

“Do you have any right now? Saved from yesterday?”

“No, no, we don’t keep. We sell everything we have and fresh stock comes in everyday from Malaysia.”

“What kind of durians do you have?” I inquired.

“We have very good Mao Shan Wang  and sometimes one or two other types.”

It sounded good but 6pm was too far off. We needed durians NOW.

So off to Geylang it was. I called a shop named Wonderful durians. The sullen and sleepy voice that answered the phone told me that they had Mao Shan Wang for 28 SGD per kilo. At least I ascertained that at least one stall had their delivery today. 

  
As we turned onto Sims Avenue, our eyes immediately widened as durians were displayed on racks on the left. We did a short circuit in the car down two intersections and turned round again. The liveliest stall that kept beckoning us got our attention. (We did see Wonderful Durians but the durians on display didn’t look half as impressive as this stall.)

We left the car by the stall and all hopped out a bit too enthusiastically. The durian sellers knew we were in their clutches now. 

  
Ah Sing, our smoking, long-fringed, bad boy looking,self-appointed durian stall liaison asked what we were after.

Mao Shan Wang.

  
Two prices, he pointed to the left. Those are 20/kg. Over here, it’s 28/kg. 

  
Yes, I know all about young trees and old trees. Different flavours, different price.

“We want a really good one” said SW. “Ok” he said. “Just tell me what kind of taste you like and let me pick for you. I recommend old tree, give you at 25/kg. guarantee good or exchange for another.”

How could we refuse an offer like that? 

  
The Musang king he set in front of us was pretty much perfect. Bitter sweet and slightly fermented as requested. Soft enough to yield to the touch and thin flesh that peeled right off the misshapened seeds. Fantastic.

  
We took our time savouring each seed, comparing a lifetime of durian experiences with every bite.

  
Once we were done with our first durian, AR was predictably keen on getting another. Maybe we should try this other one called Hu Do. It was going for a premium, 35/kg. I think it was designed to draw in durian crazies like us.

  
To be fair, Ah Sing only reluctantly agreed to pick one out for us. It was nowhere close to the one we just had. Drier, meatier and altogether less fragrant and flavourful, I regretted it from the first bite. Ah Sing nodded thoughtfully and immediately searched for a replacement. The next one he opened just a sliver and asked AR to pinch a bit to assess suitability. AR said it was pretty good, better than the first. But when Ah Sing was splitting the fruit open, the sudden jerk of the knife caused the durian pellicles to tumble onto the dirty wooden table. Too AR’s chagrin, Ah Sing tossed the whole fruit into the bin without another thought. AR protested at the terrible waste of a good fruit but I told him that those wooden tables are often crawled in by cats, rats and roaches at night. Any decent durian seller wouldn’t want a case of food poisoning on their hands. So into the trash it goes. 

  
The 3rd Hu Do durian that finally came our way was acceptable to AR and SW. I was feeling rather full at this stage and just had two seeds to satisfy my tastebuds. Hu Do was generally less creamy and an overall more fleshy and robust durian. Some bitterness but this I detected as an undertone rather than an overtone.

  
ZI woke up and put an end to this durian expedition, but we’d already eaten our fill and were pretty much done anyway. 

Ah Sing provided a bottle of water each and a box of tissues. I noticed other customers donning plastic gloves to eat their durians… What’s the fun in that? Durian eating is all about the tactile sensations in the fingers and mouth. I never understood those who would eat it with a fork (BC that’s you).

  
The total damage was less than SGD 150, a steal considering what I’d have to pay in Hong Kong.

  

Durian attempt at Malaysia’s Agrobazaar in Singapore

The Malaysia Agrobazaar in Jalan Sultan launched with a lot of fanfare and press. A plaque on the wall bearing the signatures of two current prime ministers (Malaysia & Singapore) hangs on the wall by the door. 

  
Occupying four shop lots, the signage can only be described as discreet. The logo is printed on the rain canopy’s edge which limits the size of the font. The signage at the back of the shop is larger but you can’t enter the shop that way. 

One shop lot is a Malaysian style restaurant, the menu proposes several fancy dishes which I don’t think I’ve had in KL before, but they were mostly rice based with a twist. All quite inexpensive. 

  
Anyway. We had come for the DURIANS! 

Inside the shop (totally empty on New Year’s Day), there was a cold room with shelves that held promise. And these two very informative posters.

   
 But aside from the faint whiff of durian in the cold room, I couldn’t see any. Just melons and neatly packaged star fruit.

  
How disappointing.

A wander around the store really was a time warp back into a mini-mart in some backwater Malaysian town. The air conditioning wasn’t on so it felt rather warm and humid. One of the aisles also smelled a bit like sewage. 

Rather obscure brands and a range of processed food were displayed for sale on the shelves. It was hard to see anything that looked vaguely appetising. 

Our 10 minute reconnaissance tour was up. I was just about to walk out the door when a lady clad in a black hijab approached me and asked if she could be of any assistance. 

  
“Ah durians, now don’t have, maybe next week.” And she produced her name card. “Please call us to check before you come”.

Hmm. She was friendly enough sales person and wore a big easy smile. But what’s really going on here…?

This is supposed to be managed by the organizer of the largest farmer’s market in Malaysia (front page of website). The farmer’s aspect of it is notably and disappointingly missing. I didn’t even see a raja banana for sale. Back to the local distributors for our fruit fix.

A nod to durians at the new Singapore National Art Gallery

The new National Gallery is an impressive  space. No expense has been spared architecturally and on interior decoration to make it a contemporary museum that could be in New York, London or Paris. I thought it bore some striking similarities to the Art Institute in Chicago, lighting and displays were light, airy. 

  
Equally thoughtful was the devotion of the basement to a children’s art expression and play area. There were rooms for colouring, sticking, constructing and of course, running around. The multimedia room was a real hit… Who at any age can resist colouring in an animal of your choice, then hitting submit to “send” it to the large wall screen to see it come alive and animatedly walk around in a virtual jungle? Delightful and so versatile. 

  
Then there’s the durians. Not vying for attention with the animals but just hanging there in the background.

  
Adorable toucans, squirrels play among the durian trees buffeted by palm fronds, orchid and anthuriums. I love the tropical theme. Well done Kathryn and team!