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.

Durian Radar: Sudden and unexpected appearance of the Musang King

I was cruising through the supermarket Taste at Hopewell Center for a carton of milk. The route entails going past the personal care section, baby diapering section, household cleaning section, the toilet & tissues section. When I rounded the bend at the Japanese/ Taiwanese premium fruit display and the deli area selling expensive cheeses, right in front of me was the fast moving fruit display. 

👀ZZZziiiingggg!!! 👀

These fruits sit on top of barrels and are here at this intersection to get your attention. My eyes spied a small mass of familiar durian yellow in two tones… it was Thai on one side and Malaysian on the other. All packed in cling film for sale. The Mao Shan Wang looked like it was a nice and creamy.. good colour. 

At least you can see what you’re buying


At a display table perpendicular to the ready to consume durian, whole durians wrapped in cling film! Each going for a set price of HKD 299.9 per piece. I don’t know why it’s not just $300. Purchasing psychology I guess. 

Each going for $299 HKD


If you need a fix, head down and grab one.  It’s not expensive compared to what regular stall pricing would be for HK, but it’s off season time so the flavour may not be as intense… I couldn’t detect the aroma at all, these durians weren’t double wrapped.

Durian size comparison with apples

The only issue is that you might have to split the husk yourself. No simple feat unless you refer to a video instruction. 

Check out this video by Mark Wiens eating durian in Singapore... one of my favourite YouTube chefs (awesome Som Tum and Tom Yum Soup Mark) happy to know he likes durian too.

Invitation to visit Fruit 🐒Monkeys, Singapore

I suppose if you were to open a fruit business in the chinese astrological year of the monkey, it would make sense to include the word monkey in the name. Particularly because it is so apt that monkeys love fruit. Especially high calorie ones like durian.

It was a pleasant surprise to receive an invite from the two founders of Fruit Monkeys, to check out their new durian enterprise. Kaida (Chief Inspiration Officer) got in touch and seemed genuinely pleased when I agreed to pop in sometime over the Christmas / New Year period when I was in Singapore. Please note that this is not a paid review, we were charged for what we chose and consumed. 

Fruit Monkeys is located along a street which I would normally never travel on, nor pass by en route somewhere nor on foot. It’s located near Farrer Park MRT station/ hospital, on Rangoon Road but would still be several minutes walk. There’s ample street parking if you’re inclined to drive but no covered areas so be prepared to get a bit soaked in wet weather. Who eats durians on rainy days? 🙋🏻

I popped in to pick up some durian as a gift for a friends house visit, and give Fruit Monkeys a chance. The owners chose to take a shop lot in a newly constructed podium space, not your typical durian stall with such posh digs. The vicinity feels quite experimental and the transitioning of shops in the neighbourhood indicates gradual gentrification of the area. 


As you can see, this isn’t a durian stall that you’d come across… you definitely have to know about it to find it.


At the end of the corridor, Fruit Monkeys has a neat and simple concept, with their durians sunbathing on the terrace. 


Bernard, (the other owner) was tending to the shop that day. 

What could he recommend? 


Bernard said the Xiao Jin feng was excellent, would I like to try it and take a few besides the usual Mao Shan Wangs. Sure, why not. I like to try what the owner recommends, gives me a guage of their taste.


The Jin feng (Golden Phoenix) is indeed “Xiao“, it would fit in the palm of your hand. Perfectly shaped like a little plumper than a rugby ball, it’s too cute weighing in at just over a kilo per fruit. The fruit to husk ratio is pretty decent too.


The durian was opened and I was offered the tasting portion (i.e. Pick the corner seed).


It tasted like ice cream. The flesh was sweet and very smooth. I decided to take 3 of these little ones.

Now onto the main course. I was pretty keen to try this Old Tree Musang King that the owners rave about.


So here it is. Rich deep yellow with perfectly translucent skin. Certainly looked fabulous considering how late it is in the season. Corner pick 😉


Of course it’s fabulous on my deprived palate… but it didn’t have quite enough of the bitter undertones which I like. Nonetheless I took two of these as the texture was spot on. 

The second MSW picked was apparently not up to par so the Sifu rejected it and selected another fruit.


Here’s the colour comparison.

As though testing me, the durian Sifu opening the fruit asked me “which one do you prefer?” 
“Jin Feng” was my reply. It was a winner in both smoothness of texture and a sweet richness that was unpretentious. He smiled knowingly and told me that it is only in season for two weeks. Ahh the joys of eating seasonal fruit… sort of the same highs as getting a limited edition of a luxury item. Total came to SGD 250 for 5 fruits. Not cheap but it came with Bernard’s personal guarantee.

I was getting these to go and it was a good way to see how it would be packed.


The durians were tipped into the usual plastic containers and then heat sealed in a bag. It did reduce the smell but as it was just one layer, the smell had begun to leak once I got into the car. Oh well we had it in “convertible mode” (windows down!). 

THE DEEP FREEZER FOR THE BODIES

There was a deep freezer in the corner of the store, I asked whether they could show me what they kept inside. No, just joking, there are no bodies here, just durian!


They had two categories in the freezer. One was packed premium Musang kings, all individually wrapped in cling film and packed tightly into more sturdy freezer friendly plastic box. The foil cover maintains the secrecy of what’s inside from prying eyes except that it wouldn’t fool an x-ray machine.  The other were standard takeaway style plastic boxes filled with the durians that were rejected, these are sold for processing to be recreated into purees and pulp for pastries etc. 


The premium grade frozen Musang kings go for SGD 110 per box and Bernard said that these were targeted to Indonesian clientele who liked to bring it home and eat it cold like ice cream. 

FACILITIES


I was reasonably impressed with the facilities, the shop was brightly lit, reasonably clean and free of bugs. There was a proper work table for the packing of the fruit and a nice wide and deep kitchen sink for washing hands and tools. The owners also had a bowl of candy out, presumably as an offering for drop ins or those needing to leave with a different flavour in their breath.


I noticed some durian brushes hung up at the side. It’s nice to keep your premium fruit looking cobweb and bug free. You can also see the different sized boxes available for travel takeaway next to their packaging materials ( i.e. Tape, scissors, heat sealing machine).

And if you go crazy excessive ordering and run out of cash, you can also pay by NETS and credit card.

I think this is a good place to take your guests for a durian experience (it’s important that first tries are good ones and at least Bernard and Kaida can curate). It’s covered so you can sit inside or in the covered walkway area if it rains. It’s also air conditioned for those who need it a little more luxe than the usual roadside haunts. 

Bernard’s perspective is that he caters for durian lovers. He gets his supplier to only select the best fruit from Johor and Pahang (Raub & Bentong specifically- well reputed and old durian plantations there). He says it’s expensive but he gets a guarantee on fruit quality. If it doesn’t pass the test, he says he gets to return or refund it. This is the same promise he offers his clients. They started out as fruit lovers and have now progressed to fruit vendors. 

Anyway back to the durians I bought. It was a gift to a friend. Our friend KM -a Kamoro indigenous tribe expert- is a durian lover. His wife GM even more so. They were so happy with the gift and really took time to savour every bite. Here’s the final evidence.

Seeds of Jin Feng and Musang King

Park n Shop Wan Chai has Mao Shan Wang Durian on sale!

Yesterday was my first purchase and taste of durian this winter. 

At the Park n Shop in Hopewell Center, I usually cast a glance over at the shelf where the pomelos and other seasonal fruit sit… always hopeful that durians will appear. And they did. Packets and packets of durian. It must not have been more than 3 or 4 small durians though. Just divided up into plastic cling film trays.

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Most of the durian packets were full price but a few packets were on sale half price. I picked the heaviest one with the plumpest looking flesh. It was clearly ripe but relatively untouched. They must have put it out just before I got there. Most of the packets looked quite soft and ripe already so more will go on sale soon… Unless a durian aficionado buys the lot before you get there.

image
I went home with this packet which I put in the freezer until dinner just to chill it. 

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The color wasn’t as rich as the Mao Shan Wangs we usually have but the texture was creamy and the flesh falls easily away from the seed. A few small parts of the fruit tasted a bit sour and these were discarded. The smell was strong but as we only had two segments, wasn’t too overpowering. Generally pretty good.