Go…Go…Go.. Durian Omakase!

I love this wonderful marketing strategy by 99 Old Trees in Singapore. Durian omakase (colloquially termed Sukawa by 99 Old trees.. a very Singlish phrase) is such a fabulous idea… it means you show up and the vendor picks a variety of the best fruit for you to sample (in unlimited supply). A few innovative companies in Hong Kong (that are from KL) have started doing this at sit down events, but no one has thought to coin it an “omakase” as it’s much more of a durian tasting of different varietals than necessarily the BEST of each one.

Check out this article about what 99 Old Trees is doing and do watch that video with Genevieve Loh, she’s superbly funny 😆.

I really miss being in Malaysia for durian season… is anyone coming to HK from KL/SG and can bring some omakase up for me? I miss having other varietals. In HK they only bother bringing in Musang king and maybe black thorn. Sometimes the Musang king is only so-so. I miss a good Tekka!

Ps. For the foodie uninitiated (from Wikipedia): Omakase is the Japanese tradition of letting a chef choose your order. The word means “I will leave it to you.” It’s a fine tradition that gives the chef creative freedom and the customer a memorable dining experience. Any good chef is a creative individual. … Omakase lets the chef flex their culinary talents.

A FB friend just went to 99 Old Trees and reported a stellar experience. Find them off Little India at 46 Owen Rd, #01-277 Singapore, Near Pek Kio Food Centre. But you’d better call them first… after this promo, I wonder if there’ll be any Durians left! Durians usually arrive from malaysia in the afternoon so get your tummy ready after 6pm…

Tel: +65 98222495 book by noon I would imagine!

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A rival to durian, for fame, flavour and equal fervor… can you guess what it is?

Everyone who has had durian will know too well that unmistakable scent (often detectable from a distance), the very characteristic appearance of green spikes resembling a furled up hedgehog and the fire that is lit in a durian lovers’ eyes once a good fruit is presented.

Let’s now substitute the fruit “durian” with the bright green edible bean “petai“.

Petai is in its own right, a very unique bean. The pods are large and long, with a slight twist and curl. The beans themselves look quite ordinary. Mildly rubbery, a bit smaller than the average female thumb.

But the smell when it is cooked is intensely pungent and it’s very difficult to describe its taste. Bitter or bitter acidic yet a bit tasteless on its own, it is best combined with other strongly flavoured sauces like sambal (a paste made of fermented shrimp, chilli, garlic, ginger and lime concoction). The sambal petai dish is mind-blowing when cooked well and accompanied with fried fish or deep fried chicken and steaming hot off-the-stove jasmine rice.

Is your mouth watering yet?

Petai, unlike durian, will change your body odour for about one or two days post consumption. Though you may not notice it… your friends might. If you eat enough of it, it’ll also turn your pee a very fluorescent shade of green (similar to my Thai whiskey experience, but we’ll cover that another time).

The effects of petai and the pungent smell notwithstanding, petai is served in many restaurants albeit in small quantities relative to durian. This stink bean has fans and it’s non-fans, people either love eating it and sort of crave it, or refuse to try it at all.

Perhaps it was with this in mind that FAMA decided to replace durian with petai at the promotional food fair Malaysia Fest in Singapore. It can be brought in large quantities, bring in the petai lovers and satisfy some cravings. The pods also look impressive in big bunches so at least it looks good as a takeaway from the event.

Why no Durians Singapore? The smell can be contained with good packaging so I doubt this is the real reason. I suspect it’s probably more to do with husk and waste disposal.

A fruit that smells like itself

“I like fruit that smells like itself and not like something else” declared SC while cutting into some deliciously decadent milk tea roll from Yoku Moku.

“What does that mean exactly?” I asked my friend who was butchering the roll because the steel knife was a little too small.

“I just prefer fruit that smell and taste the same as how they visually appear… and are less pungent, you know” SC said grimly, examining his handiwork before offering up a grin as he served me a piece.

“Ok, so you don’t like durian. What other fruits fall into that category?” I was finding this very interesting indeed… the smell of fruits is indeed usually a subtle affair, made more so that these days, fruits are often sold packed in plastic, picked before they are ripe, or are genetically selected for other traits, scent not being one of them.

“Well… like mango for example. It doesn’t smell good to me.”

Really?! Delicious creamy mango, a fruit that has been marketed to represent the tropics and used almost as ubiquitously in equatorial cocktail drinks as the coconut?

“Err… what do you think mango smells like?” Probing… probing…

“Durian to me smells like cheesy feet, mango to me smells like raw sewage” he spat out. This description opened my eyes. Literally. I’ve never heard of mango described as smelling like raw sewage. Durian has been described by many using lots of nasty adjectives but mango to most South East Asians is sweet and fragrant(for example Thai and Philippino cuisine would be far drearier without it). How can our perceptions be so astoundingly different?

SC is a wine connoisseur, he has a sensitive nose and palate, able to distinguish the very flavours and “hint” components that make up the aroma of each wine. I’m assuming he’s very sensitive to sulphur and esters that are natural components in fruit, but perhaps are in greater concentrations in mango (and durian).

What does he like?

Grapes, strawberries, melon, peach, cherries, apples, pears, all citrus fruits. Not hot on banana, mango, jackfruit, durian. Got it.

Durian deception: When a durian snack is not a durian snack

You would generally expect that when you buy a durian snack you’d be getting a snack with durian in it. You would be hoping for that creamy texture….. that aromatic-pungent scent….. the tinge of bitterness when it melts on your tongue…

Not the overwhelming cloying sweetness of straight up sugar and egg. 

Let’s survey a few durian snacks sold around the shops here and see what they contain.

1) Durian cakes – classic flavour, with “Rich Durian Flavour”. 

The picture looks positively delicious. There’s a sponge cake exterior (thinking kueh bahalu here) and a durian filled interior. Made by a company called Natural House that takes the effort to emphasise Natural (自然). There’s a nice picture of a durian revealing its fantastic interior just by the cake. This was sold at Save More


Now let’s examine the ingredients.


Ok maybe that’s a little too small to read, but you can see the pictoral description on the back of the box. Zoom in a little will ya.


If you look at the ingredients closely you will realise that you are being led astray. There is no durian in this cake whatsoever. Instead, you’d be consuming flour, emulsifiers, palm oil and a bunch of sugars and artificial flavours. E450, E500, E341, E102, E471, E282. Thank you for declaring the artificial ingredients in detail.

Would I buy this? NO. Not even for HKD 18 (USD 3) My poor liver would be crying out in pure torment.

2) Kai Kee Durian Egg Rolls. (Note that the durian version costs 20% more than the Coffee and Curry flavours.)


Nice packaging ✅ , pricing not exorbitant ✅ , good looking durian in the cover ✅ , from Malaysia ✅ . 

Now let’s flip it over and see what’s within.


Ok, so the ingredients are: Egg, Sugar, Wheat Flour, Rice flour, coconut milk, durian paste, durian flavour (flavour). 

I take it that the last ingredient is actually artificial durian flavouring. No E colours or numbers stated but I think they must be lumped under that last ingredient.

Well, at least there’s some durian paste that went into it, though it may be less than 1%.

Would I buy this? Maybe. It’s the same contents as egg rolls just with durian flavour for HKD 58 (USD 8). Or how about we just stick with the plain egg rolls…. 

3) Kai Kee “durian ice cream cookies”

As an alternative to the egg rolls, Kai Kee also has these cookies for sale. 

So they are “handmade” and a durian flavour.  Let’s flip it over.


What? It’s worse than the egg rolls. It is only flavoured with durian…. hmm. Yet again, no declaration of E numbers that went into this.

4) Homei Durian kaya

If you love kaya like me, you would always be on the lookout for kaya. Nothing beats fresh kaya… I usually get a bottle or two if anyone is coming from Singapore or Malaysia. This brand of durian kaya from Homei is distributed in several shops in Wanchai. You’ll find the same product cheapest at the Save More store in Wanchai market’s Stone Nullah Lane. It’s less than HKD 20 per bottle.


For those who are uninitiated in the ways of kaya, it’s largely made from coconut milk  but is often cooked with Pandan leaves to impart a fragrance to the runny texture.

Did any durian make its way into the kaya?


Sugar is the first and the largest component (don’t get a heart attack reading this), followed by durian at 25%, egg at 15%, water, corn starch, salt and colouring E102. Find out more about the ubiquitous E102 here.

Would I buy this? No. I can wait till the next visitor from Singapore or Malaysia comes and brings me a tub of fresh Killeney kopitiam kaya

None of those E colours thank you. 


5) Durian pralines by Hemelz


I saw these pralines in Singapore’s Tanglin Mall supermarket during Chinese New Year (February) and was intrigued enough to take a photo. 

The three top ingredients are durian paste, vegetable fat and sugar though the relative quantities are not stated. 

Would I buy it? Maybe. Just to satisfy my curiosity.

🐱🐱🐱🐱🤸🏻‍♂️🤸🏻‍♂️do more exercise if you’re consuming this much sugar..

If it’s off season and you’re craving some durian, I highly recommend the lyophilised (aka freeze dried) version. It’s definitely lost the texture of the fresh durian but the flavours are released nicely on your palate and you know there’s nothing else adulterating it.

Supermarket vs Fruit Vendor: The Musang King Durian challenge 

I have two friends here in Hong Kong who are self confessed durian addicts. As far as addictions go, being addicted to durian is probably one of the toughest. Why?

1) it’s seasonal, unless you accept Thai versions of durian.

2) everyone expects you to share. So no squirrelling it away to delve into piece by piece in privacy.

3) aroma. Even if you did eat it secretly, you can’t hide the scent in your breath and your  subsequent burp. 

Anyway, DC and AY love durian. They’ve told me so many times and keep a small stash of the stuff individually packed in heat sealed airtight bags in their freezer. But as the durian connoisseur knows, the flavours and texture of frozen durian seldom approach that of the naturally ripe, freshly chiselled open fruit at room temperature. It’s also the suspense of visualising the flesh as the thorny husk is prised apart. It’s just not the same appreciation when a clear plastic box is plonked down in front of you and you can see every seed you will eat all at once. The sound of crackling from the frozen plastic box also fails to stimulate. 

Alright. Enough waxing and whining. Let’s get down to business. 

DC and AY invited us over to their home for dinner. Naturally, we bring dessert. I just relished the opportunity to do the test I always wanted. Comparing a chain store purchased Musang King to one bought from a specialty fruit vendor. Are the durians at Park n Shop good enough? Do they preserve the freshness well on the shelf for several days? Is the price difference justifiable? Let’s find out.

The Great Musang King Challenge

I skipped over to the fruit vendor Fu Wing

“Gor gor mao san wang gei dor chin aah?” (approximate Cantonese sounds for how much is the durian?)

After weighing..

“Sei bat umm sap mun”

(HKD 450)

I paid it and asked him to put some cling film around it for me. He protested. “It will spoil”, “the heat will destroy the flesh”, “the water content will leak out of it”, “it will be too stuffy”. I told him I’d be back in half an hour for it and it didn’t matter as I was only taking it for a 25 minute journey. I just didn’t want it to stink out our Uber car.

After that I did a quick march to the supermarket. There were several mao san wang durians ALL wrapped up in cling film sitting in a plastic crate. I picked each one up carefully, observing the state of the stem, the colour of the husk, whether there was any detectable scent and if they felt equal in weight.

Weight wise, they all felt quite similar. This sorting had taken place upon supplier provision. There were colour variations, some husks more rust coloured, some very green. That generally indicates whether the fruit was exposed to the sun or not. The stems were all about two inches long and seemed relatively healthy, except for one which had split longitudinally, probably during handling. I couldn’t detect any scent, all the durian husks were intact and kept so by the tight cling film wrap.

I chose a green one with a good looking stem and felt firm within when I gave it a shake. HKD 350. That’s a whole 20% cheaper at the supermarket.

I popped it in a plastic bag and put it in my stroller bag. No sense letting everyone know I had bought a durian and I didn’t want to injure myself carrying it in my hands (yes, seriously). I also didn’t want Fu Wing to know I’d bought a durian from the supermarket… (I just wanted to ensure that they would not select differently).

Thus armed with two thorny fruits, we made our way over to DC & AY’s home.

“Happy Birthday!” I exclaimed when she opened the door.

“It’s not my birthday!” She replied.


I know that. But everyone needs an occasion for durian… more the reason for two (especially at this price).

After a bak kut teh dinner, AY placed both fruits on the table and deftly split them open. 


The aromas were immediately apparent and wafted throughout the house. I tried getting everyone present to do a blind taste test but no one agreed. Everyone said that visuals are part of the experience. Ok ok, point taken.


So what was the consensus?
Durian from Taste:


Bitter, sweet, smooth, creamy, just enough elasticity in the bite. Fragrance was rich and full, the seeds small and flat.

Durian from Fu Wing:


Sweet, smooth but a little too firm. Not ripe enough to present as really creamy. Fragrance was present but not tantalising, as expected from a fruit with more maturation to go.


We declare the Musang King Mao San Wang from Taste best value for money and the overall Winner!

What to bring your sister’s in laws? Durian as a gift

I’ve been eyeing the durian in styrofoam boxes sitting out at Fu Wing for the last few weeks. At HKD 109 per pound, I’m waiting and looking to make up an excuse and occasion to have one.

Musang Kings at Fu Wing, Wan Chai


Well, the perfect reason came up about two weeks ago. We were invited out to Tuen Mun for a toddler’s birthday party and I thought we might as well maximise our trip by visiting my sister’s in laws who live by the Gold Coast (HK, not Aus). They kindly invited us to dine at home, and as he is a chef, would serve up the most delicious home made dishes. We knew we were in for a treat and gladly accepted. 

We ran through our list of “what to bring to friend’s house for dinner” and found it somewhat limited and unappealing. I mean, we’re eating at a professional Singaporean chef’s home… bringing anything made by anyone else just wouldn’t cut it. It might even be construed as an insult. 

How about durian…” SW suggested. 

Marvellous idea, I think there’s a mini season happening” I replied. 

I stopped by Fu Wing to ask if the durian was any good. 

Very very delicious” replied the owner in Cantonese, “the flesh is fragrant and soft“.

I like bitter, are you able to choose a bitter one for me?

Can, can, the flavour is bittersweet“.

On the day, I rang and confirmed my order. A medium-sized durian, bittersweet, wrapped as a whole fruit with husk.

We paid HKD 450 for it and had him seal it up with newspaper and cling film as best he could (despite his protests that the durian would start to go bad due to humidity). It was only going to be a few hours, it’s been relatively cool and we didn’t want to stink up the toddler party or our taxi. Unfortunately here they haven’t caught on to the vacuum sealing packaging systems yet. 

So here are the details.

Musang King Durian: Eat me Eat me!


The Mao Shan Wang durian was fresh, the flesh was delicate yet firm, the aromas wafting out once we opened it. The center portions were dry and the seeds were small, flat and pebble-like. 


I would say that the only disappointment was that the flavour was distinctly sweet, we didn’t detect a hint of bitter at all. 

Overall enjoyable for an off season but we wished that the flavour was more distinctive. Oh durian lovers are so hard to please… but at these crazy prices,  fruit vendors have to choose their suppliers well and wisely.

Musang King 🐱⛰ 👑 Durian for sale at CitySuper, Times Square

If it’s at Taste, it’s also gotta be available at CitySuper. In I went to hunt down the durian in Causeway Bay.

It’s right at the front entrance, impossible to miss. Sitting high up on a display bench, whole durians sans cling film beckon. The packaged durians packed in impenetrable stiff plastic wrapping. Not a whiff of any aroma at all. 

Boxed durian for sale at CitySuper


But the colour looked good. 
And the price…? Well, expect to pay at least twice the price for this box of gold at CitySuper.

Durian Priced by weight at CitySuper


Mmm looks good….

Boxed Musang king at CitySuper


Pretty funny that they translate it literally as “durian meat“. I suppose “durian flesh” doesn’t sound much better.