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…

    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

    Seriously good durian musang king pudding

    Maybe I’m just feeling deprived. We went for brunch on Sunday to Cafe Malacca at Hotel Jen and ate a bit of every goodie we could find on the menu. I think I’ve pretty much had everything sans prawns (allergy). 

    When my friend DW handed the menu around again for dessert, I just had to open my mouth and say… “I heard the durian pudding is good but I’ve never tried it…”

    Picking up the cue, he immediately offered “want to share?” 

    No need to ask twice. 

    There are two durian puddings on the menu. There’s the regular durian pudding, then there is the durian musang king pudding. No brainer which one to choose right? 


    I realised as soon as I helped myself that I’d forgotten to take a picture. So the perfect trapezoid is a little ruined. 


    Ok this is the side view to give you a depth perspective. 

    The dessert cup isn’t very big. But as the spoon is small, you do get approximately 15 mouthfuls of the smooth stuff. The durian has been blended and not a fibre remains. It is sweet but not cloyingly so. It is fragrant but not in a manner that you can smell it before you can taste it. 

    Durian burps are guaranteed, though it’s not too embarrassingly strong. 

    For HKD 68, not bad. Especially since we don’t have any of the real stuff to compare it to right now.

    Looking forward to my durianic Christmas….it’s only a month away!

    First proper Mao Shan Wang this August 2016

    Hooray!!! Oh how I’ve missed eating good durian.

    After what seemed to be an eternal time waiting for the right time to purchase a good Mao Shan Wang durian, we finally took the plunge last Sunday. 

    I’ve been scoping out the market daily and the supermarkets too. City Super sells the pricier stuff (labelled Cat Mountain King) for between 400-900 HKD per fruit (smaller cheaper ones weigh around 1.3Kg), that started about two weeks ago. 

    August 1st, Causeway Bay City Super. Durians on sale


    When Malaysian durians finally hit the shelves at the Taste supermarket, it was a clear indication that the season had really begun. 

    August 12th, durian on sale at Taste


    The packets in the supermarket are nothing great though, often slightly too ripe and already a little molested in the packaging stages. 

    In the Wan Chai indoor fresh fruit market, the stall blaring pop hits (on your left as you enter the doors from Queens Road East) had two on display in their refrigerated shelf. 

    “The smaller one is 390, the larger one 500” came the response to my inquiry. We decided to take the larger one hoping to satisfy the cravings of three people. Mind you, large isn’t very large, the durian weighed less than 2.3 Kg for sure. 

    Here we go….


    I asked the fruit sellers to cut the durian for me for easy opening, we wanted to take it with its shell on to avoid damage and keep the aromas in. 


    The durian flesh was a delightfully bright yet rich yellow, reminds me of the intense shade of sunflower petals. The whiff I had confirmed that it was worth paying for. 


    As we opened the entire durian fruit, I was pleased to see that there were no signs of dry edges or fruit that was also too wet. It was a durian in more or less perfect condition. 


    There were some stringy textures but that’s quite normal. Overall the flesh was smooth and silky though there were some interesting taste variations from pellicle to pellicle… One particular pellicle was a bit more bitter than the others… But not in a bad way.


    I was also pleased to see that the flesh was well filled out in the pellicle and that every segment was equally inviting. No disappointments on fruit opening. 


    The misshapened seeds characteristic of the Mao Shan Wang were larger than I had hoped  but that’s not something that I can complain about. 
    FYI, also in season at City Super are the insanely large and inordinately expensive watermelons… Which also come in cube shapes!

    “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…!

    Do you like Cendol and Durian? Feel like splurging on calories this Ramadan?

    Cendol durian reigns supreme 

    If anyone is visiting greater KL and feeling like they just need one bowl of a good durian dessert, this might be a place to hit. It’s far out and I’ve not been there myself so I can’t vouch for it, but the contributor of the article seems to be raving about it. 

    According to the article, Durian Cendol is the star attraction here. They offer both durian tembaga (D118, see description here) from Thailand and, when in season, the Musang King. RM 15 per bowl gets a portion of Cendol with perhaps one or two seeds of durian flesh. Of course the sweetness of the Santan and the smoothness of Cendol can be absolutely addictive. (Quick mention for best Cendol in Penang, without durian but totally delicious on a hot sunny afternoon. Fantastic post lunch treat, as long as you don’t overstuff yourself with Kway teow!).

    Worth it? If anybody tries, please let me know 🙂

    If you’re celebrating Ramadan, do check out the additional stalls they’ve added during this festive season.

    Here are some maps to give you a perspective of where the stall is (I’ve done a gradual zoom in)… You’ll definitely need a car and I reckon it’ll take you at least 1.5 hours to get there from KLCC excluding peak hour traffic.