Durian buffet: Eat until you pengsan

Translation. Pengsan= Drop.

Eat until you drop. Buuurrrp.

What’s not to love about durian buffets? Imagine, getting to eat variations of the same thing… what if it were a cheese buffet or a pork cutlet buffet. Do you think it would inspire the same fervor and enthusiasm? I’ve been to cheese and wine tastings before, it’s usually limited to a small amount of cheese and just one glass of wine per bottle. Yawn. Boring.

So I’ve been to a few durian buffets but this one was different.

The durian buffet organized by the Wanchai road shop 猫山旺 was held at The Hub just off the main pedestrian bridge linking the MTR station to the Immigration building. I was a little late to the party.

Wow. Everyone was already seated and there wasn’t a seat to spare. Hmm 🤔 (wondering whether I could get a seat).

I spied a nice lady in white wandering around the entrance with a tag and proceeded to ask if she was Carol.

Oh no no I’m not Carol, (she’s Carmen) Carol is somewhere in the back getting the durians ready, you can go have a look.”

Okay… off I go to the back. There was no shortage of things to see.

Firstly, you see what hybrids they’re serving. Here you can admire the different shapes, spikes and forms of the durian husk.

Then, a table full of gift suggestions. Want to send a fresh fruit hamper with a fresh durian? They’ve got you covered. (Let me know if you need special gloves for opening them, I can sort you out.)

And if you’re not into fresh and prefer durian in its other forms… well you won’t be disappointed either.

Durian chocolate, crisps, coffee.. I think those possibilities are endless.. but that’s if you’re just into the flavor. Which I think is sort of missing the point… there’s just so much more to the fruit.

What’s really nice is that they bothered with mangosteens. Very thoughtful to include the queen of fruits. It’s the yang to the durian’s ying.. helps to balance out the heatiness of durians.. or so the chinese saying goes. Mangosteen is an equally difficult fruit. It spoils easily, the juices stain everything it contacts with and the worst part? It’s often full of large black ants. They hide under those beguiling green sepals and spill out once you’ve disturbed their hiding place. I hope the Hub fumigated after the event or some residents are going to massively complain.

After the Queen here come the Kings!

All these are for sale of course. What about the buffet?

Nice. I liked that they used black serving plates. Good contrast.

I finally found Carol who was really busy getting the servers to do the serving. I decided to introduce myself to the boss dressed in white, Jessie. After some discussion with her, I was ushered over to a seat and assigned with my tray.

How exciting! I couldn’t wait to catch up. Everyone else had already demolished their tray and were onto their second round.

Note the banana leaf underneath the durian. Great idea to make it authentic Malaysian style 👍👍! The organizers also strung up Malaysian flags and had coconut water and bottled water on the tables. This was well thought through.

While people were eating, on stage there was a running commentary about different types of durian, what they look like, their flavors etc.

Mark, the durian supplier from Malaysia was up there to provide his expertise on durian cultivars in Cantonese. (Note, I did speed the video up 2x to save some time. Mark doesn’t really sound like a cartoon character! :))

Was anyone actually listening? Yes and No. I think most people there were durian enthusiasts and they knew what they were there to eat. They were just tucking into every serving. But it was good to have running commentary, definitely makes it more lively.

In the paper cup provided for each person was a plastic glove. Almost everyone I saw on the room had used one. That’s how I know they are from Hong Kong. Everyone here has been conditioned to be hygiene obsessed. So they’ll wash their hands, then put on the glove to eat.

As my faithful blog readers know, that is just not the way I like it. I want to feel the durian flesh on my fingertips. I want to hold it with my pincer-like grip and know the size of the seed. Most importantly, when you use your bare hands, the chances of it slipping and popping onto your shirt or lap is much reduced. Well, that’s just my opinion. Use your gloves if you want 😉.

I was quite impressed with the graphics, -nicely done- explaining the various states in peninsular Malaysia and where durians are grown (yes, virtually all have durian).

I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get more of the Musang king or the 金包which I was rather taken with. Instead it was the much less flavorful D24 that made the rounds and I noticed that many of these were left wasted on plates. Perhaps the organizers should note this and ask what their audience would like more of… we could hold up a sign saying “more 金包over here please”

Soon after, the packaged samples came out… first the durian ice cream. It came out already in balls with a serving spoon. Not bad but not everyone could be bothered.

Then the durian mochis. These were straight out of the freezer but had a bit of condensation at the side. I found these to be too chewy. Not my thing.

But Z was into the durian cheesecake. Not that it had a strong durian flavor to it, that’s probably why she could stay to pick at it until it was mostly gone.

I had been persuading her to try some durians with me but to no avail. Basic rule of parenting, pick your battles. I figured this wasn’t one I needed to win. She could see how much fun I was having, so I’ll just stay optimistic.

To amp up the fun, the organizers had a lucky draw to win durians and a little contest to test the knowledge of the participants. The winners got to take home a whole durian each.

Everyone was encouraged to buy some durian on the way out to take home and autograph their big durian wall.

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Jessie and Benny’s team and commend them on the expert organization of the event. Jessie and Benny run a successful seafood export business and started this business due to their own passion for durian. A tip for the owners….I asked several participants how they came to know of it… were they clients of the durian shop like I was?

No… they all knew about it through Facebook groups and love going to durian buffets! These were the serial durian buffet goers (SDBFG).

More on the SDBFGs in another blogpost.

If you’re in the city and craving some durian, these guys will sort you out. The service is a little gruff but I think the quality may be more reliable than other stalls as they fly the durians in fresh daily. And if you’re too tired to head out… call them they deliver!

Open 10am to 10pm. Call to pre-order at +852 9171 3882.

Ps. At the conclusion of the event, they announced a buy 3 get 1 free promotion. I bought 2 金包, 1猫山王 and 1D101. Shared with PB who was a very happy chick.

Here’s the cute assistant courier.

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The 3 dollar stall is now a 350 dollar durian stall

Since the day that TH told me that a durian shop had opened right on her street (Wan Chai Road), it’s been drawing me over like a moth to a flame.

The durian stall replaced a casual pop up selling everything for 3 Hong Kong dollars. We still use the words “Sam-mun” to affectionately refer to that specific location despite that pop up having left a some months ago.

The durian stall in Wan Chai road only has a chinese name猫山旺, which is “Mao Shan Wang” currently the unequivocal top breed of durian. It’s consistent, it’s full of flavour and really once you’ve had this, you may as well forget Thai durians and other non-descript hybrids and pay full attention (and money) to eat this one.

Eating durians in Hong Kong is always a splurge for me, and it was on a wet drizzly day that I suddenly decided that I was desperate for durian.

There I was across the street at the stoplight, huddled under an umbrella, my shoes soaked in murky sidewalk rain water and what do I see?

….Nothing. The wooden shelves and palettes were completely empty.

Whaaaat was going on? Obviously I wasn’t the only one pondering a durian stall with no durians in the middle of the afternoon.

This called for an investigation. I zoomed in for a closer look and a chat with the lady at the stall.

Durians on flight, haven’t arrived yet.” She said. “If you want, consider these packs at 180” she waved her hand toward the table, “or come back tomorrow“.

The three packs of durian were quite small, I’d say they were half of a smallish durian in each pack. Upon smelling them, I decided to go for the pack with an assortment of small seeds.

Reliable Mao Shan Wang. Need I say more? They were barely chilled then polished off.

oh yes. When I was at the shop, I saw a leaflet pasted on the wall advertising a durian buffet in Wan Chai. Sounded interesting, it went into my calendar.

This stall is located on Wan Chai Road near the Comix Home Base.

It usually looks like this.

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. 

    Fresh Malaysian durian in Wan Chai Today!

    I happened to walk by my usual fruit shop along Wan Chai Road (next to Serge) and spied this…

    photo (5)

    Ooh don’t those lychees look good. But I tell you what, the durian is better!

    I stopped and remarked “wow you’re pregnant and love eating durians?” (reminds me of someone I know)

    She said ” I just ate one or two, its just freshly arrived”

    So I said “is it good”

    She said “you want some? here try one” and handed me the not-too-big husk.

    “Sure, ok thank you I’ll try one.” I said.

    It was DELICIOUS. pungent. yellow. not too moist. not too dry. fibers that just melt on your tongue.

    I was so happy she let me try that one durian seed that I couldn’t tell her off for giving me lousy mangosteens last week. She also let me try a lychee (she’s not a fan of lychees) but after the durian, the lychee was bland in the way that a bad watermelon is bland.

    July is almost here and I hope we will be inundated with Malaysian mao shan wangs in Hong Kong.

    The MSW durians outside Wan Chai Market

    At the fruit stall just outside Wan Chai Market, next to Serge et le Phoque, a little fruit stall with a nice fruit seller and some decent fruit, stocks durian from Malaysia.

    Musang Kings for sale

    Musang Kings for sale

    He told me that currently it costs HKD 300-400 per fruit or HKD180 per pound. I asked if it would be cheaper in July to which he replied resoundingly “yes”.

    I told him it seemed expensive (of course way more than what I would pay in KL), and he told me to come back tomorrow. I suspect that the fruit is already very ripe and he will be re-packing them in individual trays for sale.

    Fruit stall in Wan Chai

    Fruit stall in Wan Chai

    I’ve been buying some fruits from this stall and it’s been relatively good quality. I’ll let you know if I get the durians.

    After Dinner Durian in Kuala Lumpur

    On a recent trip to KL, I invited AC over for dinner. It had rained in the afternoon and we wanted to stay home to avoid the traffic at rush hour. She said that she would love to come over for dinner and exclaimed “I haven’t eaten durian since the last time you were here! I will go buy some as dessert.”

    I wasn’t sure if she would, as she would have had to brave the traffic all the way to Jalan Imbi and back. Well, as sure as my salmon was in the oven and baking for dinner, AC turned up with the durian dessert. Initially we left the trademark rose red plastic bag on the table and didn’t want to touch it until after we had our dinner (you will soon see why this plan worked).

    Right after we ate our dinner, I was pretty excited to get started on the dessert.

    Go on mum” I said, “let’s open the durians!

    My mum was a bit surprised that I had space for durians after the big meal, but as I have maintained for years, dessert compartments do not overlap with main dinner compartments.

    Air sealed durian packaging

    Air sealed durian packaging

     

    So here’s why I could have my durians post dinner instead of having it as an appetizer. It was air sealed and there was no smell! So one of my main senses was deprived and hence… less temptation. AC told me that the Jalan Imbi durian uncle was rather proud of his new packaging, specifically pointing it out to her when she bought it. He told her that this way, no smell gets into the car. I suspect that this also serves the hordes of chinese tourists who want to bring some back to their hotel room or their home country via their luggage. They usually descend on his stall by coach loads and like a swarm of locusts, consume all the durian in sight.

    Mum got a pair of scissors and exposed the wonderful durian fragrance which permeated the entire room.

    Mao Shan Wang in March

    Mao Shan Wang in March

    And here is the first packet. Looking pretty good and tasting rich, smooth and creamy like a brut champagne.

    MSW box 2

    MSW box 2

    The next box was equally delicious but had a different taste (one box contains fruit from one durian). It was a little softer, more pliant and a little watery. It had stronger bitter undertones and less of the sweetness. The thing about durian is that you can’t ever find fruits to compare which have the same texture but different tastes or the same taste but different textures. That is one of the wonderful surprises that durian has to offer. This is true even of fruit from the same tree.

    Here is the final evidence.

    Seeds of the Mao Shan Wang

    Seeds of the Mao Shan Wang

    The seeds are classically mis-shapened and small, most of Mao Shan Wang is the satisfying taste of sunshine.

    Combat Durian Stall in Balestier

    “Everyone knows that the place to buy durians in Balestier is that stall by the temple” said one of my friends who resides in Novena.

    Which stall is that?

    After a rather disappointing teo chew porridge buffet dinner at the Quality Hotel ( it’s very Chinese to give a name to make up for what it lacks), we took a stroll along a nicely renovated sidewalk along Balestier road to check out this stall. COMBAT DURIAN. What a name. I wonder what they are lacking……

    Crazy Combat Durian Signboard

    Crazy Combat Durian Signboard

    There is no way you can miss the stall. It is lit up like a Christmas tree with signboards hanging from every aspect, giving instructions on where to park your car to all the news features on their stall.

    Durians Available at Combat Durian

    Combat Durians

    Right up front and center are the durians for sale in baskets on a table. We decided to go for the Mau San Wangs.  2 please.

    Prices

    Prices

    Durian price lists indicate what’s premium and in season… all the stalks look quite fresh.

    I thought this signboard depicting the founders was pretty funny. It’s a strange thing but I guess buying durians requires a high trust factor so knowing that the owners seem reputable is important. (But why COMBAT? Was he fighting with his wife? Did they use durians as weapons? Were they in the army?)

    Founders of Combat Durian

    Our Mau San Wangs were opened and quickly pried out of their husks and into take-away boxes.

    IMG_3975

    Looks nice and richly yellow right?

    Sealing the durians

    Many durian stalls are now gearing up for customers who want to take their durian with them in planes, trains and automobiles. So it’s the stink-free packaging that is now standard.

    Prepacked Durians for Sale

    If you aren’t an expert and don’t trust them enough to select the durian, they also have open prepackaged fruit on offer at not-too-expensive prices.

    Mangosteens

    Of course Chinese people will tell you that Durian is “heaty” and that if you are planning to consume lots then you should balance your yin-yang with a “cooling” fruit such as the mangosteen. They usually come into season together. I don’t know if it’s really true about the balancing, but I can assure you that the mangosteens remove the taste of the durian and is quite refreshing.

    Crazy Signboards at Combat Durian

    These are more crazy signs at the stall.

    The following picture is a picture of the competitor durian stall next door. It just has one LED flashing sign but no one was in sight of the stall. An uncleared table of durian husks, some mangosteen husks and with a name like “Sindy”, I am not sure who and what sort of patrons this stall targets. Combat durian is definitely fighting to stay on top, and they are clearly the winner along this street and neighborhood.

    The "Sindy" Durian Stall in Balestier

    The “Sindy” Durian Stall in Balestier