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 šŸ™‚

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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    Don’t cha wish your durian was Musang king (sing along to Pussycat Dolls)

    It’s typhoon season in Hong Kong. These few days the passing typhoon brought pelting rain that lasted hours, drenching everything but giving all the streets a much needed wash. The rain brought the temperature down a bit but it’ll be muggy again before long. 

    Just a few days before Typhoon Merbok rolled into town, I set off on a short expedition to see if anyone in Wanchai was selling Musang King durians yet. 
    A survey of all the fruit stalls in the Wanchai market yielded only Thai durians. Hmm…..šŸ¤”

    Ok how about we play Where’s Wally with durian. 


    This fruit stall on Stone Nullah Lane often gets a lot of foot traffic. The lady who runs it is a bit fussy and unfriendly if you’re looking for small quantities. I’ve seen her break out in huge smiles only when clients come in to buy a box of expensive fruit.

    At this stall the Thai Monthong (aka Golden Pillow) goes for $20 per pound.

    The durians are way in the back. Did you spot them? Reveal reveal….


    This next stall about halfway down Stone Nullah Lane also only had Thai durians for sale.


    This stall is crazily well lit. It literally has hanging lights and down lights spaced barely a foot apart. I suppose it’s nice that you can really see the fruit. No need to guess and easier to see the fruit’s imperfections. They had the durians a little more towards the front.

    At this stall the durians go for $15 per pound.

    Did you see them? Reveal reveal…!


    The Kai Bo food supermarket which opened about a year ago also tries its best to cater as a one stop shop to its clientele. Thai durians found here too.


    This supermarket gets pretty busy during the day. It’s cheap. 

    Here, these durians go for $14.8 per pound.

    Do you see the durians? Reveal reveal!


    Let’s have a close up shot eh.


    I could almost feel myself falling into that Teochew trap of “bo hae her ma hor” (no prawn fish also can)… it was tempting to buy a thai durian just to have some. But no. It just wouldn’t do. I knew it wouldn’t satisfy me. It would probably make it worse.

    So I continued with my little visual tour and durian window shopping. 

    At the corner intersection of Cross Street, Wan Chai Road and Tai Wo Street, I stopped to see what durian activity there was.


    Several cases has arrived and I went over to see the cargo. The uncle in charge was gloved up and very nimbly hauling out the durian and tapping them with his chopper. He was performing individual inspection of the fruit in each box.


    I went in for a closer look. It was sent from OP Fruits Co, as a package of 6 Monthongs, “expor to the People’s Republic of China“.


    At this stall, it was hands down the cheapest at $13 per pound. While I stood there, two Thai ladies cane up and bought a durian to go. 

    The Thais have a formula for their durian producers. Stick with the productive fruit, ensure constant abundant supply to all overseas markets, dependable and consistent quality at a huge discount so that buying one is a simple decision making process. You simply know what you’re getting. And at that price, you can’t complain. 

    I was sorely tempted but just knew it wouldn’t satisfy. Yup, I’m the delayed gratification type most of the time, though sometimes the impulse demon just overwhelms me. Not today demon, not today.

    I can almost hear the refrain by Pussy cat Dolls ….

    (Substituting girlfriend for durian)

    Don’t cha wish your durian was hot like me

    Don’t cha wish your durian was a Musang king 

    Don’t cha

    Don’t cha

    Don’t cha wish your durian was raw like me

    Don’t cha wish your durian tastes like Musang king 

    Don’t cha

    Don’t cha

    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 purƩe.

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

    A Durian guide to the newly renovated Food Hall and Supermarket in Sogo Causeway Bay

    Sogo, one of the stalwarts in Hong Kong’s departmental store shopping scene has undertaken a massive stage-by-stage renovation. It’s about time. The layout was beginning to look tired under the old style fluorescent lighting and it was heading towards the style of Wing On rather than Hysan Place

    The internal renovation started at least a year ago with the children’s floor. Now, it’s reminiscent of Lane Crawford and Harvey Nichols (I bet they took a lot of ideas from there) and is rather upmarket ($$$).

    They recently completed the B2 food hall and supermarket, this is what I checked out. 


    I checked it out with a specific interest in durians of course. 

    I was very surprised that down the escalator, the first thing that caught my eye in the fresh food section was a small shelf of durian. It occupied the top shelf, above the jackfruit (nangka).

    Thai durian at Sogo


    Granted it was Thai durian but this was promising. Rough spend would be HKD 100+/- per pack.

    Hmm. Did they have any Malaysian produce for sale? 

    Sogo rarely lets you down.

    Malaysian Musang Kings


    On the adjacent opposite display shelf, the Musang Kings were in whole and packaged form and is on a shelf at roughly hip/waist level. There’s the already packaged durian going for about twice the price of Thai durian, and there’s the whole durian for those who want it super fresh.

    Durians packaged beautifully in sushi boxes at Sogo


    Each box contains between 4-5 seeds, all a rich golden yellow. How about the whole durians?

    Whole durians


    The whole durians were long stemmed and quite fresh looking, still unopened. Each about 2kg in weight and costing about HKD 600+ per fruit. 

    Here’s where to look for them in the supermarket.

    Where to find durians in sogo supermarket Causeway Bay


    Here are directions to Sogo if you’re new in town.


    Go by MTR, tram or bus.

    It’s on a major thoroughfare through Causeway Bay, you can’t miss it. Especially after they are done renovating in a year or two and will have a massive TV screen up for advertisements.

    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


    Google plus code: 7PJP75HG+7J

    Supermarket vs Fruit Vendor: The Musang King Durian challengeĀ 

    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!

    Fresh Mao Shan Wangs spotted at Apita SupermarketĀ 

    “Have you been to Apita before? It’s where most Japanese people go to do their shopping.”

    As I hadn’t, my neighbour EB suggested that we take a trip to Apita Supermarket in Tai Koo Shing.

    I am full of praise for this supermarket located in the basement. Upon descending by escalator, the cavernous brightly lit space opens up on two sides. Turn left. Pick up a basket, pop it on the trolley. Wheel past bakery shop Panash and try not to stop because you’ll be overwhelmed to purchase a bread bun. Enter fresh foods area. 

    Wide open aisles, neatly packed fresh produce greet you. All labelled in Chinese and English. I’d just finished inspecting the vegetables and saw the foreign fruit section. Sitting on its own little display crate were the prize. 

    Durians at Apita Supermarket


    The whole durians looked small-ish but good. The stems were on and I couldn’t detect any aromas. Price wise, it’s more expensive on a per kg/lb basis.


    The packaged durian was double sealed. I was very impressed that I couldn’t detect a whiff of durian at all. The staff must have taken great care to ensure that no durian made contact with the exterior (not even transfer through gloves).


    Then I saw this fantastic packaging display. Seriously, what artistic staff. To split the durian open perfectly in half, exposing the fleshy pellicles and balancing the other fruits on top without looking like it’s been mushed up? That is artistry.

    And I couldn’t smell a thing. Just fantastic. Not even City Super does it like that.

    This gets my vote for most eco-friendly packaging as there’s no excessive plastic surrounding it, just cling film. But you’ll need to carry it home very carefully so that you don’t end up with just durian pulp on top.  (Of course the best is you buy it in husk which doesn’t require any packaging at all but then you can’t visually inspect the fruit)

    Frozen D24 durian mochi

    What’s in a durian mochi?


    They also had frozen durian mochis available but these are made from D24 so it’s a very different flavour. 

    I didn’t buy any but I did have durians on the weekend. Read about my durian challenge in the next post.