A Durian Hunter’s Bonanza at the Food Fair in HKCEC

I was very happy to discover that PB is as much of a durian fanatic as I am. Except that I believe I have a pinch more self control than she does. Or maybe I just have more exposure to durians than she does. 

Anyway, the impromptu trip to the Food Fair in Wan Chai was revealing about our fondness for the stinky spikey fruit (she was willing to leave her 5 month old infant at home just for some private Durian time, a sign of true dedication to durians :)).

This Food Fair 2017 is the first I’ve attended since I’ve lived in Hong Kong. The crowds on a Friday mid afternoon was staggering… just as busy or maybe busier than the book expo. Ushers were stationed along the overhead walkway guiding people, they had also shut off the main walkway to the convention Center forcing people to exit and re-enter to the makeshift ticketing booths. The taxi queue was at least 30-45mins deep and cars weren’t being allowed to approach the main hall drop-off area. I had the baby in the carrier so I was accorded the privilege of going ahead in the queue. 

PB was late. Her taxi turned into the Hyatt hotel entrance but she didn’t realise that there wasn’t a connecting door to the convention Center. I got the twenty-five dollar tickets and waited for her by the entrance. 

When she arrived (all flustered) we headed straight up to the main exhibition hall area. Just like Art Basel, the organisers force you to head all the way down the corridor and enter from the fifth or sixth door. We went in and were amazed by the narrow corridor layout and the height of the booths, some of which towered two stories high full of LED lights. Promoters were standing on every corner handing out leaflets or just trying to get passers by to look at the products and gifts with purchase. 

There were lots of booths advertising durian but we soon discovered that most of these were selling durian pastries, snacks and moon cakes. There were only 2 booths selling fresh durian and a few booths selling frozen durian. I tried to take some photos but these really aren’t my best as we were trying to keep within 90 minutes and to cover the entire ground floor zone. It was a bit of a rush. We headed in and walked down to the end of the hall first, to work our way backwards.

The first booth we found selling the fresh stuff was Mr Durian.

Mao Shan wang on display at the Mr Durian booth


 The durians were priced at HKD 230 per kilo and their Mao Shang Wang durians were smallish, just over a kilo each. The booth next door was selling durian ice cream in a cup for HKD 100 each and some snacks and dried fruit. 

Dried durian for sale at Mr Durian booth

Fresh Mao Shan Wang for durian ice cream!!

Mao Shan Wang ice cream with fresh durian $100

Durian mochis and moon cakes at Mr Durian


We thought this was a pretty good booth and the durians looked fresh. Noted. Next. 

We cruised the aisles avidly searching out the next booth. Lots of booths selling durian biscuits and pastries… we just glanced at them and as this wasn’t our target, we moved on. 

Booth selling durian sandwich biscuit

Booth selling durian pastries and desserts

The Durian pastries that are so popular in Hong Kong

This booth specialised in Durian ice cream

Sampled the ice cream, a little too sweet

Durian biscuits, which ironically are artificially flavoured



Finally, towards the initial third of the hall, we came upon a booth decorated with lots of little durian stuffed toys. Well, it’s certainly one way to get attention.

Shared booth – sparkling juice and fresh durian!


 

Tree ripened Musang King Mao Shan Wang

HKD 488 per fruit and you can pay by EPS!

You can see the stuffed toy durians in this photo


They had a stack of fresh durian in husks piled high on the table. The price was marked as HKD 500 each. I approached and asked how many kilos each durian was. About 2 kilos was the answer. Not bad, but that would also be 2 kilos of uncertainty and disappointment if it didn’t turn out good. 

I made a memory mark of it and we moved on. PB spotted a booth with a massive Hello Kitty on it. 

Snow skin durian moon cake in a Hello Kitty Bag anyone?


Interestingly, they were selling durian mooncakes in a Hello Kitty cooler bag. She waved me over and had already started negotiations for two durian mochis. “Here,” she said, “try this.”

Negotiations taking place

Not too expensive

Thanks PB for my durian mochi 🙂

Nice cold durian mochi


Not bad,” I replied, trying to balance the second half of my mochi on the tiny stick of a toothpick. “Flavour is good and it had texture, but still nothing like the real thing.

We consumed the rest of it rapidly and threw the sticks in the bin. 

Durian powder ice cream packets


Then we encountered this booth selling durian powder which you can reconstitute and make your own ice cream. Hmm. Well I guess if you don’t have fresh or pulp to work with, this may have to do. It makes me wonder how many durian ice cream makers are using this powdered formula.

Finally in the A section of the hall, I found the durianBB booth. The organisers had spent a lot on branding and you can just tell they are begging for an Instagram shot for your social media profile. 


Loaded with bags, boxes with their logos and staff all t-shirted up in the same, their booth felt cramped and there was a staff ratio of 5 per client visitor so it felt a bit much. 

The durianBB booth

Ice cream samples for tasting

Packaged frozen durian. But you can’t see what’s inside


They were plugging the durian ice creams, durian moon cakes, frozen durian, durian mochis… but no fresh durians. And it didn’t seem inexpensive.. there wasn’t an apparent discount or promo for buyers at the fair. So, we looked and reflected and they offered us some durian ice cream to try but it just wasn’t what we were into. 

So it was back to Mr. Durian

Pretty funny logo. Imagine eating durian in a suit?


We were contemplating which durian to pick up and share when a chinese guy sporting sunglasses and a durian ice cream cone appeared beside us and gestured for ten. Immediately the staff sprang into action, swiftly picking ten durians off our table (well technically not our table but it was where we were in our mid selection reverie). 

Hey!” PB exclaimed,”we were just trying to pick one!

Well“, I told PB,”good durians wait for no man… if we want to get it, better hurry and choose or the table will be swept clean!” This was, after all, the first day of the fair and the best would still be on sale. The guy produced $1500 and still managed to get some change for the ten durians. The staff were busy opening the husks to show the client then packed the durians in newspaper and into a plastic bag each. 

Wrapping the whole durian in newspaper for the chinese buyer


We wasted no more time. Once the staff had settled his purchase we got them to recommend one and open it for us, splitting it into two boxes. It looked and smelled good. 

Splitting the durian


PB looked and looked. She ended up buying a box of mixed durians to try. “What do you think?” She asked. It was a box of Jin feng, 101, red prawn and something else. I told her that those were all good breeds and worth a try. Those boxes cost only $100 each so she happily added it to her bag. 

The mixed box of durian


After the small splurge, we walked casually toward the exit and parted ways. She by taxi and me on foot. 

=============

PB messaged me that evening saying that she had devoured her entire lot to the ire of her husband. She couldn’t keep any in the fridge as he can’t stand the smell.. hence she ate it all in pretty much one sitting. 

I kept mine til the next night in the fridge when SW and I could have it leisurely. It was reliable Musang king, very enjoyable. 

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    Sometimes a durian biscuit will just have to do

    This durian season in Hong Kong has been meagre. July flew by with very few durians from Malaysia on display or sale. (Thai durians are omnipresent but what’s the fun in that.) I heard that durian is going for SGD 100 per kilo from my mother. Can it be true? 

    Tellingly, my friend DW on his trips to KL and Singapore has had few opportunities to indulge in his favourite fruit. 

    So how have we survived???!!!!

    DW brought back some durian biscuits from Durian Durian in KL. In chinese these are 香餅, which aren’t exactly biscuits in the English sense nor are they cakes. I guess the closest thing is maybe a flaky jam tart… but it’s filled with durian instead of berry based jam. Anyway for the purpose of this blog, they are biscuits.

    It really wasn’t bad. Here’s the tub.


    The biscuits  inside are individually wrapped. So they are protected from bumps and won’t flake all over.


    Here’s the advice on the back of the tub to warm it up if you have kept it for a while. I didn’t do this though and it tasted fine.


    It tasted good. There was a nice durian aroma and aftertaste, I think I burped durian for a few hours later. It tasted more of rich D24 blended with maybe D101 than Musang king though. You can see the nicely baked layers and the durian paste oozing out…


    It was all gone, flakes and all, in 2 minutes. 

    A durian dim sum recipe

    A few weeks ago when I went to my local public library, I borrowed two beautiful culinary cook books. Ok ok they were in the category of “food pornography”. One on dim sum dumplings which I knew would excite the small one, whose tastebuds are all about that base, all that base (ok base as in soup base…sorry couldn’t help it). Another on the uses of miso (mmmm… live for that salty and umami flavour).

    So, apart from all those wonderful dim sum dumplings featuring fanciful folded scallop and shrimp and crystal skins, chef Janice Ong (Singaporean) also had the recipe for a durian dumpling called “durian nest”. As you know, the durian fruit has only recently (last 10 years or so) become popular with chefs looking to innovate, this durian dumpling is definitely not a classic dish. 

    It’s essentially a deep fried durian pastry packed with calories and as flavourful as your best durian pulp

    Durian dumpling recipe from Dim Sum

    The caveat is this. The Amazon reviews of the book were really mediocre, many criticising the author for bait and switch where the recipes can’t be replicated. In the world of scientific publishing, the author would have had to retract the recipe and apologise to the entire scientific community and any future publications would be scrutinised like crazy. In fact, for misleading scientific publications, the author may never be allowed to publish with any authority ever again. But, this is the world of cuisine and I’m not sure what repercussions there are (if any). 

    So, just to be clear, I haven’t tried the recipe so I don’t know if it’s good. But the picture associated with it look deeelissshhhh…..

    Bonus if you make it yourself. No added sugar and no preservatives 🙂

    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.

    Packaged durian cake from Thailand

    In the basement supermarket Jason’s in Mongkok’s Langham Place, the only durian related item available was this.


    I thought the location was a little strange. These durian cakes were on a shelf next to other dried fruit products like raisins, dried strawberries and blueberries, even apple purée.

    Well I suppose if you’re looking for dried fruit it could also mean you’re looking for durian :).

    Direct from Pahang: where to find Musang King all year round in Hong Kong

    I was at the “Wan Chai- Shibuya style” crossing, waiting to get to the other side of Hennessy Road. My eagle eyes and super sharp durian radar are always on “search mode” (sort of like the Terminator or Robocop, maybe like the spaceship scanners in the Matrix). What was that on the other side of the six lane road??


    You can’t go wrong with a name like that. No mincing of words, no mystery, no guessing. A shop called Musang King must be all about the King, only the King and nothing else. Right?

    I popped in for a look. 

    It was a small shop (replaced the Ice.licious whimsical popsicle store), just wide enough to fit the freezers and fridges, leaving enough room for clients to get in there, buy and leave. It’s not a cafe and there’s no reason to hang around. On the day I went, there were three female staff on duty. It seemed a little excessive given that XTC makes do with one given a similar space and set up. Perhaps it’s just temporary staff for the opening sales… they may be expecting hoards of people.


    Everything was in the fridge. It was Glass panelled so that you can see what’s for sale and how much for. There was an interesting array of durian derived sweet and savouries, ranging from durian filled baos (buns), durian pizza (uh huh) and durian crepes and assorted tarts.


    The Durian Musang king ice cream sticks were particularly appealing to me.. it was a sweltering hot day and I salivated at the thought of a cold Musang king. 


    There was also packaged frozen D24 durian for sale and frozen whole durians, both D24 and Musang Kings.

    On the counter next to the fridges sat a heated display unit with some puff pastries. 

    I asked the staff where the products were made, in malaysia or here?



    All in Malaysia
    , came the reply (according to their FB page, they’re located in Raub, Pahang). Except for these in the heated display unit. These, she gestured, were made by us here.

    I made up my mind to try a durian popsicle. Attempting to help myself, I tugged at the freezer door handle. 


    To my surprise, I couldn’t open the door. That’s when I realised it was locked! Hmm. Was it to prevent thieves from running off with a few boxes of delicious, expensive biomaterial or just to prevent the temperature fluctuations from repeated door opening and closing? 

    One of the ladies saw what I was trying to do and sprung into action.

    “What are you trying to get?” She asked

    Durian ice cream” was my reply.

    “You want one or one box?” 

    Just one please, if it’s good I’ll come back for more.” 

    She went behind the little counter and pulled my requested popsicle out of another freezer. 

    Eating it now or later?

    Now I said.

    She tore the box open for me and cut the top of the plastic packaging so that I could hold on to the stick.


    I slipped it out of the packaging and walked out into the street with it. What great free advertising for the shop.


    The ice cream was smooth and well emulsified. It had a nice bite to it and melted smoothly in the mouth. Texture 8/10. Taste wise, it was very sweet with no hint of bitter. 6/10.. 


    It was all done by the time I reached Johnston road. The burp that made itself known came about 20 minutes later with the very distinct digested durian aroma. 7.5/10. 

    I guess these durian popsicles are made in big batches but how much more interesting would it be if you could select a bitter popsicle?

    This shop that started in the autumn of last year only does frozen stuff, most practical cold chain from Malaysia I suppose. They are now actively distributing to China. Its ok for a popsicle but if you prefer fresh fruit, you’ll just have to wait until durian season (starting soon).

    Find Pahang Musang King at 263 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai. About 7 minute walk from the MTR station or 4 minutes walk from the Fleming/Burrows Tram stop.

    Pahang Musang King, Hennessy Road, Wan Chai


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    Hong Kong’s crazy durian chefs

    How creative can one get with durian? Given the addictive nature and general lack of fruits for most of the year, I guess some restaurant chefs must think there’s a crowd that’s willing to pay for eating it in a variety of ways. 

    My question to the chefs is this. When cooking up a “durian-inspired” fusion dish, do you seek to enhance or dampen the durian flavour? 

    I suspect that any “cooking process” actually destroys the delicate aromas of the durian. But if the fruit isn’t so good then maybe it’s not a bad thing..

    Thai Yuen : durian curry fried crabs, durian cheese baked big-head shrimp, durian cheese deep-fried spring roll and Thai durian fried rice. (Uses Monthong)

    Honeymoon Dessert: durian pizza, durian milkshake, durian pancake, durian shaved ice with black glutinous rice.

    Musang King: sells the frozen Musang kings at -18 degrees C. Also sells pulp for dessert creation.

    Fisher & Farmer: Durian chicken pot. (Uses Monthong)