Go…Go…Go.. Durian Omakase!

I love this wonderful marketing strategy by 99 Old Trees in Singapore. Durian omakase (colloquially termed Sukawa by 99 Old trees.. a very Singlish phrase) is such a fabulous idea… it means you show up and the vendor picks a variety of the best fruit for you to sample (in unlimited supply). A few innovative companies in Hong Kong (that are from KL) have started doing this at sit down events, but no one has thought to coin it an “omakase” as it’s much more of a durian tasting of different varietals than necessarily the BEST of each one.

Check out this article about what 99 Old Trees is doing and do watch that video with Genevieve Loh, she’s superbly funny 😆.

I really miss being in Malaysia for durian season… is anyone coming to HK from KL/SG and can bring some omakase up for me? I miss having other varietals. In HK they only bother bringing in Musang king and maybe black thorn. Sometimes the Musang king is only so-so. I miss a good Tekka!

Ps. For the foodie uninitiated (from Wikipedia): Omakase is the Japanese tradition of letting a chef choose your order. The word means “I will leave it to you.” It’s a fine tradition that gives the chef creative freedom and the customer a memorable dining experience. Any good chef is a creative individual. … Omakase lets the chef flex their culinary talents.

A FB friend just went to 99 Old Trees and reported a stellar experience. Find them off Little India at 46 Owen Rd, #01-277 Singapore, Near Pek Kio Food Centre. But you’d better call them first… after this promo, I wonder if there’ll be any Durians left! Durians usually arrive from malaysia in the afternoon so get your tummy ready after 6pm…

Tel: +65 98222495 book by noon I would imagine!

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A rival to durian, for fame, flavour and equal fervor… can you guess what it is?

Everyone who has had durian will know too well that unmistakable scent (often detectable from a distance), the very characteristic appearance of green spikes resembling a furled up hedgehog and the fire that is lit in a durian lovers’ eyes once a good fruit is presented.

Let’s now substitute the fruit “durian” with the bright green edible bean “petai“.

Petai is in its own right, a very unique bean. The pods are large and long, with a slight twist and curl. The beans themselves look quite ordinary. Mildly rubbery, a bit smaller than the average female thumb.

But the smell when it is cooked is intensely pungent and it’s very difficult to describe its taste. Bitter or bitter acidic yet a bit tasteless on its own, it is best combined with other strongly flavoured sauces like sambal (a paste made of fermented shrimp, chilli, garlic, ginger and lime concoction). The sambal petai dish is mind-blowing when cooked well and accompanied with fried fish or deep fried chicken and steaming hot off-the-stove jasmine rice.

Is your mouth watering yet?

Petai, unlike durian, will change your body odour for about one or two days post consumption. Though you may not notice it… your friends might. If you eat enough of it, it’ll also turn your pee a very fluorescent shade of green (similar to my Thai whiskey experience, but we’ll cover that another time).

The effects of petai and the pungent smell notwithstanding, petai is served in many restaurants albeit in small quantities relative to durian. This stink bean has fans and it’s non-fans, people either love eating it and sort of crave it, or refuse to try it at all.

Perhaps it was with this in mind that FAMA decided to replace durian with petai at the promotional food fair Malaysia Fest in Singapore. It can be brought in large quantities, bring in the petai lovers and satisfy some cravings. The pods also look impressive in big bunches so at least it looks good as a takeaway from the event.

Why no Durians Singapore? The smell can be contained with good packaging so I doubt this is the real reason. I suspect it’s probably more to do with husk and waste disposal.

Looking for a new durian t shirt for my wardrobe

I’ve been looking for a durian t shirt update for years. My first t shirt was my favourite but it’s no longer sold. My second t shirt was from the store G.O.D. in Hong Kong and it gets an “ok” rating from me as it has nice fabric but a mediocre design. It was a green v neck with a velvet durian in the center. I got a couple of wears out of it.

Looking around on google images, I see many durian designed themes for t shirts but they are all quite ugly. 

Why? Firstly, the depiction of the durian is “as is”, where the picture printed on the shirt is just a center aligned  image of the cut open fruit. That just smacks of artistic inertia. Who would want to wear that? 

Secondly the t shirts look like cheap quality.  I guess you get what you pay for. As they say in Singapore and Malaysia “Good no cheap, cheap no good”. Cheap quality t shirts only look good on models, when they are brand new and if you’re super skinny. 

After all that trawling, did I finally find one that fits my two t shirt wearing criteria? 

Yes, thanks to a Singaporean designer. I like the detailing of the string and that the durian isn’t just plonked in the central body of the shirt. 

The only issue now is whether it’ll fit me. The sizes look like they run small. I’ll try to find out and let you know if I decide to get one. 

Chinese New Year Durian Festivities

How could we return to Singapore and not have durians

It is off peak and durians are frighteningly expensive for the quality that is available. So……

First up, durian mochi dessert at a chinese restaurant after a fantastic Chinese New Year feast. Round smooth pale balls of fragrant pleasure…, aaaaah.

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The inside looks and pretty much IS the real thing…

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After the mochi (only one each), we had chinese oranges, pineapple tarts and fruits. But the durian mochi was hands down the best.

And they are available at the Jade Seafood restaurant in Forum Galleria pretty much all year round.

Durian Wine… Is it worth the effort?

Lindsay recently wrote an article for Winemag on the research into durian wine.

It’s sometimes strange what research gets funded and why. Usually a committee sits down to work out the merits to justify whether a project is feasible, has the potential to be commercialised or contribute to the good of society at some point. Sometimes, institutions are flush with cash and the Principal investigator gets a free hand to do as he/ she fancies. 

In Singapore, this seems to be the case with a project involving the research into turning durian into wine. It sounds like the personal interest of a particular researcher to find any project to work on. I find it hard to believe that the economics justify the costs.
A quick comparison of the original fruit source of wine (the juicy, delicious grape) as our comparison.

  1. Durian is an expensive starting product and non-uniform fruit. Grapes which are grown by vegetative propagation are more consistent branch to branch, vineyard to vineyard. Not the case for durian fruits whose flavours vary between branches and trees.
  2. Durians aren’t naturally juicy. Grapes contain a lot of juice- great for making a drink.
  3. Durians don’t ferment naturally to produce something tasty. Grapes are the naturally occurring fermenting starter, wine making was discovered through a natural process.
  4. Durians are not popular with everyone.. I know many people who refuse excellent durian, but very few who refuse a mediocre grape. 
  5. The whole point of a grape wine is to appreciate its grape flavours mixed in with various other soil influences which the grape absorbs through its growth stages. I can’t imagine tasting a durian and sensing the soil flavours.. It just wouldn’t work for me. 
  6. All in all there must be many chemicals and steps involved to make something unpalatable into something worth drinking… Sounds pretty artificial to me.

This research works as a novelty perhaps, but I can’t see this making any real commercial headway. 

Perhaps if the research premise is to learn about what enzymes could breakdown the aromatic esters that make the durian scent so powerfully special so that you can market a durian deodorant or breath mints… Now that I can understand. 

Dr. Lu, please give me a shout if you need ideas in this direction.

First Delectable Durians of 2016

On the 1st of January, AR was in Singapore and persistent in querying when we’d be conducting our next durian expedition. “Well, I guess it has to be tomorrow then as we leave on the 3rd.”

After settling ZI down for a nap in her car seat, we picked up AR from his hotel and decided to try our luck at Dempsey. Nope. A quick spin around showed us an empty stall with no truck, durians or people in sight. It looked like an abandoned stall at 3.30pm.

Two more options, my auntie’s favourite Yio Chu Kang dudes or a cruise around Geylang for anything on offer. I rang the Yio Chu Kang dudes. 

“Our durian truck comes at 6pm. If you can come by 6 or 6.30 I can save you some good ones” he said.

“Do you have any right now? Saved from yesterday?”

“No, no, we don’t keep. We sell everything we have and fresh stock comes in everyday from Malaysia.”

“What kind of durians do you have?” I inquired.

“We have very good Mao Shan Wang  and sometimes one or two other types.”

It sounded good but 6pm was too far off. We needed durians NOW.

So off to Geylang it was. I called a shop named Wonderful durians. The sullen and sleepy voice that answered the phone told me that they had Mao Shan Wang for 28 SGD per kilo. At least I ascertained that at least one stall had their delivery today. 

  
As we turned onto Sims Avenue, our eyes immediately widened as durians were displayed on racks on the left. We did a short circuit in the car down two intersections and turned round again. The liveliest stall that kept beckoning us got our attention. (We did see Wonderful Durians but the durians on display didn’t look half as impressive as this stall.)

We left the car by the stall and all hopped out a bit too enthusiastically. The durian sellers knew we were in their clutches now. 

  
Ah Sing, our smoking, long-fringed, bad boy looking,self-appointed durian stall liaison asked what we were after.

Mao Shan Wang.

  
Two prices, he pointed to the left. Those are 20/kg. Over here, it’s 28/kg. 

  
Yes, I know all about young trees and old trees. Different flavours, different price.

“We want a really good one” said SW. “Ok” he said. “Just tell me what kind of taste you like and let me pick for you. I recommend old tree, give you at 25/kg. guarantee good or exchange for another.”

How could we refuse an offer like that? 

  
The Musang king he set in front of us was pretty much perfect. Bitter sweet and slightly fermented as requested. Soft enough to yield to the touch and thin flesh that peeled right off the misshapened seeds. Fantastic.

  
We took our time savouring each seed, comparing a lifetime of durian experiences with every bite.

  
Once we were done with our first durian, AR was predictably keen on getting another. Maybe we should try this other one called Hu Do. It was going for a premium, 35/kg. I think it was designed to draw in durian crazies like us.

  
To be fair, Ah Sing only reluctantly agreed to pick one out for us. It was nowhere close to the one we just had. Drier, meatier and altogether less fragrant and flavourful, I regretted it from the first bite. Ah Sing nodded thoughtfully and immediately searched for a replacement. The next one he opened just a sliver and asked AR to pinch a bit to assess suitability. AR said it was pretty good, better than the first. But when Ah Sing was splitting the fruit open, the sudden jerk of the knife caused the durian pellicles to tumble onto the dirty wooden table. Too AR’s chagrin, Ah Sing tossed the whole fruit into the bin without another thought. AR protested at the terrible waste of a good fruit but I told him that those wooden tables are often crawled in by cats, rats and roaches at night. Any decent durian seller wouldn’t want a case of food poisoning on their hands. So into the trash it goes. 

  
The 3rd Hu Do durian that finally came our way was acceptable to AR and SW. I was feeling rather full at this stage and just had two seeds to satisfy my tastebuds. Hu Do was generally less creamy and an overall more fleshy and robust durian. Some bitterness but this I detected as an undertone rather than an overtone.

  
ZI woke up and put an end to this durian expedition, but we’d already eaten our fill and were pretty much done anyway. 

Ah Sing provided a bottle of water each and a box of tissues. I noticed other customers donning plastic gloves to eat their durians… What’s the fun in that? Durian eating is all about the tactile sensations in the fingers and mouth. I never understood those who would eat it with a fork (BC that’s you).

  
The total damage was less than SGD 150, a steal considering what I’d have to pay in Hong Kong.