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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    Last few spots on Lindsay’s durian tour for 2017

    According to the Star newspaper in Malaysia, numbers of durians are down but the number of durian consumers are up. So this year we’ll be experiencing a price squeeze for durian… again. 

    Durian orchard tours snapped up

    For those making the annual pilgrimage to Penang for durian tasting, you’d best hurry as the bookings have been made by many others. 

    Lindsay Gasik’s Bao Sheng durian farm tour in Penang is probably best to go with if you want an English speaking guide. 

    If you prefer a more chinese D-I-Y experience which is less luxe (possibly no air conditioning and definitely no swimming pool) and more rural (ie harder to get to) you can check out this list of durian orchards by Jojo or give Fook Gor a call to confirm that they haven’t exported the best ones to KL…

    “Agrotainment”, KenDurian: Durian fiesta in Dataran Merdeka

    Malaysians are generally very good at coining new terms, and the ministers of state transmit these through mainstream media. So now, apart from “sportstainment”, “edutainment”, we now have “agrotainment“.

     Pretty silly as my toddler would say. 

    Anyway, this article reports that the durian fest held at Dataran Merdeka was such a huge success that it might be held every last weekend of July. From the video, it looked like a very civilised affair, with a tent, tables with table cloths, chairs and plates. People are seen selecting their durians and packing them into plastic containers. I’m not sure whether it was mostly kampung durians and those of less popular breeds… Most of the best durians are often exported to the highest bidders around the region.

    Of course, this could also be the situation in the VIP tent where the minister was given the tasting tour… Perhaps everyone else was shunted outside.

    If you were there, please let me know what you thought of it since this is now thought of and promoted as a national event…!

    Grab your Free Durian in KL Dec 14-15

    Oh I wish I was back in KL for this! Attention all durian lovers in Malaysia!!

    Free durian in Taman Tun December 11-12.

    Free durian in Imbi December 14-15.

    7pm onwards.

    An article announcing a new durian shop opening in Bukit Bintang is giving away a free durian to every group of 3. 
    Will it be a success? As long as the fruits are good, it’s guaranteed. And one palm sized durian isn’t going to satiate so everyone will buy their own. It’s more like buy two get one free 🙂 great marketing ploy.

    The previous event sounds like it was off to a good start, according to this blogger

    Where is the one in KL?

       
     So if you’re in KL next Monday or Tuesday check it out and let me know what you thought of the much hyped “oh chee”. If you’re late, you’ll end up with a Musang king or d24 which still isn’t bad.

    Mr Eric aka Durian King, I’ll be back over Christmas please save some for me…! 

    Durian Mobilization 2013: Behind the Scenes

    As with any successful show or event, there is always a diligent team working behind the scenes to set the stage, move the props and ensure that everything is put away at the end for the next show. While everyone was seated and enjoying the main durian discourse, I decided to take a walk behind the screen to see how the back room was operating. It was an impressive display of teamwork and agility.

    Ah Seng’s team were well organized. There were durian sorters, durian cutters and durian deliverers. Under the fluorescent lights in the car park adjacent to the canopy, the durian cutters lined up some crates that served as stools. Durian sorters then dragged the baskets of durians over to be sniffed, sliced open and checked. The durians were then deposited singly into each awaiting basket, designated for each deliverer to take to the group inside.

    So here are the guys who freshly opened almost 900Kg worth of durian. It takes practice and skill to get them right every time and with speed. Every durian was opened in approximately 5 seconds.

    Durian Prep Team

    Durian Prep Team, one hand gloved, one hand with a blade

    Four guys doing all the slicing and dicing.

    Durian Prep Team hard at work

    Durian Prep Team hard at work

    Empty the black baskets of all the durians and place durians into the white baskets. They would then wait until the next course was called for. So all the durians were opened fresh!

    Empty those baskets!

    Empty those baskets!

    This was the eagerly-awaiting-durian-consuming-crowd. You can see durian lovers of all ages, and despite the late hour, it was a family affair.

    Eagerly awaiting to be served

    Eagerly awaiting to be served the next course of durian

    Some even brought their own table and bench!

    Some even brought their own table and bench!

    I was really amazed to see the spectrum of preparation from the participants as well. It wasn’t just the durian guys who were organized. Check out this pop up table and bench one group brought along. It seats four people and looks quite sturdy for picnics. Wish I asked them where they got it!

    There were also several sexy reporters at the scene posing with the durian to give the event good cleavage, oops, coverage.

    TV news durian coverage

    TV news durian coverage

    What impressed me was Ah Seng’s determination to end the event on a solid note. When it came to the Mao Shan Wangs, he took matters into his own hands. He strode up to the cutting area and insisted on sniffing every durian individually prior to it being served. His nose was probably the best quality control check around.

    Ah Seng doing the sniff QC

    Ah Seng doing the sniff QC for each Mao Shan Wang

    And then the durians were served to the delighted fans.

    Would you like some?

    Would you like some?

    But many people were full by that time and Ah Seng had ensured enough MSW’s to go around. So my group was offered an extra one, which we couldn’t finish and was given to me to take home (since I was doing most of the walking around and less of the eating).

    This is for you to take home

    This is for you to take home

    Ah Seng’s family team exhausted but happy after all the durians done with. The clean up could then begin. There were several green skips arranged near the van to take the husks, seeds and other waste away.

    It’s been a long day and night for Ah Seng’s team

    The crowd cleared out pretty quickly after the event was done. Loud pumping music by the DJ’s signaled that it was time to leave. Dr Leslie announced that he would sign books purchased at the event earlier in the day so the queue established itself once all the picnic-ers cleared out.

    IMG_0166

    Dr Leslie Tay autographing books sold at the event

    And then finally Dr. Leslie Tay is free to give a full interview for the TV press which you can watch here.

    IMG_0172

    Dr. Leslie Tay interviewed for news TV

    I was really surprised when I saw one group that didn’t clear out with the others. This well organized group brought a fantastic dinner to have after the durian smorgasbord. I could see fried bee hoon, char kway teow, nasi lemak and chicken wings (?). Hmm.. I was pretty full from the durians and we had planned not to do dinner but the food did look quite delicious… especially how they were eating it!

    After dessert, they had dinner!

    After dessert, they had dinner!

    This was the MSW we brought home in a plastic bag. It was already sliced open and we had to gently carry it back so as not to break the bag and avoid poking ourselves (durian thorns are sharp!). I packed it in a plastic box when I got home and stuck it in the fridge. We ate it nice and cold the next day.

    This was the MSW we brought home and consumed the next day

    This was the MSW we brought home and consumed the next day

    It fragranced out the fridge of course. A nice reminder of the event we attended the night before.

    Durian Mobilization 2013

    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.

    Durian Mobilization Activity Board

    Durian Mobilization Activity Board

    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”.

    PRE-EVENT

    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!

    Baby checking out the durians

    Baby checking out 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.

    The Durians are a-waiting

    The Durians are a-waiting

    Was there any intention in the order of the baskets?

    Eating from left to right

    Eating from left to right

    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.

    Ah Seng's Durian Contact Card

    Ah Seng’s Durian Contact Card

    “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.

    Pay your money and get your tag here

    Pay your money and get your tag here

    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).

    Maybe the only participant who didn't get tagged...

    Am I the only one without a tag here?

    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.

    The table of ANTICIPATION: durians on display

    The table of ANTICIPATION: durians on display

    THE EVENT

    Durians at dusk under the Hong Lim Telok Ayer CC Canopy

    Durians at dusk under the Hong Lim Telok Ayer CC Canopy

    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 :)).

    Eagerly awaiting the announcement

    Eagerly awaiting the announcement

    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).

    Dr. Leslie Tay and the Singapore Kindness Movement Chairman

    Dr. Leslie Tay and the Singapore Kindness Movement Chairman

    Then Dr. Leslie introduced the star of the show, Ah Seng the durian man. Everyone was much more interested in him!

    Ah Seng and his brother at the opening speech

    Ah Seng and his brother at the opening speech

    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…..

    The first 2 durians on the menu

    The first 2 durians on the menu

    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…

    Here you go... this is is a nice looking ang hae durian...

    Here you go… this is is a nice looking ang hae durian…

    Then the XO….

    IMG_0162

    And then everything in between and then the Mao Shan Wang

    Delicious Mau Shan Wang

    Delicious Mau Shan Wang

    What was that about the durian shell enzymes again?

    What was that about the durian shell enzymes again?

    Photogenic durians all of them. Check out this tiny seed.

    Seeds so small you have to pick it out of your mouth

    Seeds so small you have to pick it out of your mouth

    IMG_0150

    Mao Shan Wang Durian

    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.