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…

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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.

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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….

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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.

A taste of Durians from Medan

After all this time that I’ve been visiting Jakarta, I’ve seen local Indonesian durians for sale (usually from Medan) but never bought any to try. Well, that all changed last week when I decided to take the plunge for the first time.

I was out to buy some peaches for a friend at the Total Fruit Store in Jalan Wolter Monginsidi and of course the display caught my eye.

Monthong and Medan Durians for Sale at the Total Buah Segar

Monthong and Medan Durians for Sale at the Total Buah Segar

We are definitely already in the midst of durian season and I’ve been eyeing the Monthong durians for sale at the GrandLucky but succeeded in holding off my purchase as it just doesn’t smell or look as good as the ones we get in KL.

But durian deprivation finally got a hold of me and I thought a good way to get rid of the craving would be to try something new. I had to take a closer look.

Small Medan Durian Fruits

Small Medan Durian Fruits

OK, not too unfriendly pricing. The one on the left is equivalent to 5.6 uSD and the one on the right is 6.3 USD. Not too bad I guess. I contemplated for a short while and picked up the one on the left because the fruit didn’t look quite as “squashed” from handling and packaging. It’s a pity that it’s just labelled as “Durian Medan”. It’s as if there is just one type… which would seem very unusual to me. Perhaps there just isn’t the breeding and cultivation industry as there is in Malaysia.

We attended a dinner that evening so we didn’t end up consuming it on the same day. I stuck it in the freezer for another evening. We didn’t wait too long.

Here’s a picture of the durian post thaw:

Nice Color

Nice Color

Color looked great but what was disappointing was the lack of the usual durian aromas which are so important to kick the saliva glands and neural connections into overdrive. Oh well, we’ll give it a try anyway.

Saving the Durian for last

Saving the Durian for last

Durians should always be eaten last or solo among fruits. The taste is usually overwhelming and even the best ripe Californian peaches and grapes will be bland compared to it.

So the taste test.

MMMmmmmm Durian....

MMMmmmmm Durian….

Verdict

Aroma: C

Flavor: C

Color (vs expectation): B-

Texture: B

Size of seed: Large (compared to pellicle)

Overall rating: C

I thought it was generally lousy compared to Malaysian durians but am open to re-rating if I get a better sample. No wonder Indonesians fly in to KL to eat durians.

 

 

 

 

And the taste of Durian Lingers on… in Singapore

Hello Hello well Durian shops and stalls are getting a little more upmarket and creative in Singapore now. I was on my way to a petrol station up Bukit Timah when we rolled by a row of shoplots and I spied a new shop there that I hadn’t seen before. It was 9am in the morning and the shop didn’t look open yet, but there was no mistaking the signboard that advertised its products. I had no idea of course, whether it was a durian shop selling the actual fruit, or perhaps a shop which sells products made from durian (like the Durian Durian store in KL).

All the more reason to visit.

It was a week later after I spied the shop that I managed to check it out. TW was back from Chicago and on the food hit list, Durian ranked right after Bak Kut Teh. As there wasn’t much time (TW was only in town for about 6 days), there was a sense of urgency about the acquisition of our tasty experiences. First we went to Yu Hua Bak Kut Teh for our peppery consomme and various equally delicious side accompaniments and then it was a 20 minute drive to search out this durian place that none of us had tried before.

Driving up Bukit Timah looking for a shop lot at night is trickier than you might think, given that it is Singapore and that everything is usually well organized. At the moment, there’s a fair amount of construction going on for the new MRT train line and also the expansion of the canal. So between the two on-going projects, there’s a lot to look out for while driving as it is. Anyway, this shop is after 6th Avenue but before King Albert Park (if that helps) and you’ll see the shop lit up at night before you need to turn in (that’s a well thought out system).

Durian Lingers, Singapore

So we arrived at around 10pm and found the place to be quite active. There were tables and stools set up outside the shop and 2 tables tucked away inside the shop. Since the tables outside were all occupied, we headed inside where there was also the comfort of mild air-conditioning. There are large durian posters on the wall and the whole fruits displayed on a well lit rack. There is an assortment of fruit for those who aren’t durian lovers too which is a good idea.

I left the group at the table and went to peruse the shop and goods. I noticed a chilled counter with the durian already removed from its husk and displayed in polystyrene containers wrapped in cling film.

Now in a new joint, I do enjoy being able to peruse and try before being pressed to purchase the most expensive item in the house (which is the way it usually is with many durian vendors). Being able to see the fruit to get a sense of texture and color is far better than trying to guess what it is like inside by examining the husk.

The browsing continued uninterrupted for a while until the nice cheerful storekeeper came round and asked me what I wanted.

Durians pre-packed in the chiller

Well, what I wanted was to be able to look at the durian close up so that I could decide which I wanted to try. The light in the cooler can be deceiving, it’s already a golden yellow which makes the fruit look luscious no matter what condition it probably is in. So I tentatively asked him what species and what he recommends. With a wide grin, a punk hair style and a chubby sort of shape, he puts you at ease and is one of the least intimidating durian sellers I’ve met. Not that other durian sellers come across particularly scary, but hey, it is a tough business and the guys that run the stalls are usually seasoned with a large dose of sweat and sunshine.

“Which is the best?” I asked.

“Oh all have different taste, but of course Mau Sang Wang is the best” Cherub said. “Which one do you want?”

Prices for various durians

“Well maybe we can get one pack of each to start with first and see what we like” I started pointing “how about this one, and this one…”

Ok” he said picking out the packet I pointed at through the glass panel.

“The Mau Sang Wang I can’t tell , do you think you can take out a few to show me?” I asked trying my luck.

Cherub volunteered “Why don’t I pick one for you? What type you like? Sweet or bitter?”

“ooooh, the more bitter the better” I emphasized, “how do you know which one, did you try it before packing?”

He gave me the widest grin and said “I know because I am the one who opens and packs them, but I haven’t eaten durian in 2 years already”

There was nothing else to do but trust him, and I have heard all durian sellers tell me that before, maybe because they shouldn’t be consuming their own products (conflict of interest?) or maybe because they’re genuinely avoiding the ‘heatiness’ of consuming durian on a daily basis (durian is also highly addictive and fattening if you eat lots of it every day).

Well the prices seemed reasonable and the durians looked well packed without any mess or destruction to the shape or skin of the fruit. And it looked like pretty much everyone sitting at the tables outside had ordered the fruit in these boxes.

And so our little feast arrived. Not very impressive looking is it. The durians look somewhat anemic and there doesn’t appear to be much difference in tone between the D24, the XO and the Mau Sang Wang.

“Don’t worry” Cherub had told me, “if you think its not nice, I can exchange for another one”. Fair enough.

I started by reminding everyone that we should commence our journey with the D24, then proceeding to the XO and finally the Mau Sang Wang. Durian is somewhat like wine, you should save the strongest flavors for last, but fortunately it is unlike wine as you’re not already half drowsy by the alcohol by the time you get to the richest flavors. The D24 was typical and nothing to shout about, good introduction for the un-inducted. The XO held its own but pales in comparison to others that I’ve had before. The Mau Sang Wang, however, was decently tasty and had a bitter edge to it which was pleasing to the palate. Not bad at all.

It was the Mau Sang Wang that led us into the ravine of desire… to think “hey, if the fruit in the packs taste this good, wouldn’t the fresh fruit out of the husk be even more delicious and impressive?”

Mau Sang Wang Whole Fruit

So SW put thought into words and suggested I attempt to bring the best Mau Sang Wang in the shop to our table.

As Cherub was busy serving other guests, a more senior version of Cherub came to assist. He wore glasses and looked a more studious version of the two. I told him what I wanted and he said no problem, he’d find me a really good one. And here it is, a small-ish cutesy Mau Sang Wang with the soft exterior and almost negligible seeds. SW couldn’t wait to tuck into it and I took this photo just in the nick of time before it was rapidly consumed.

When we split the section to reveal more seeds, the inside fruit was like stiff paper to touch and the texture was like plastic, too dry to eat. We returned the fruit and got another. Unfortunately, though the second fruit had better texture, it was the first fruit that had the better flavor. All in all, getting the Mau Sang Wang in the packs was definitely the best value for money, and the fruit also has time to ripen a little more while being chilled gives it a velvety feel of ice-cream.

A beautiful piece of Mau sang wang

So we ended the evening very full and fairly satisfied having all stuffed ourselves silly.

And so, would we go back there? The alternatives being Geylang, Dempsey and other stalls further away? The answer is yes and it’s great to know where to go to satisfy a craving in a decent neighborhood where you don’t have to worry about parking or getting ripped off and pressured to buy the largest fruit on the shelf.

A bit more about Durian Lingers: Been in Bukit Timah for the last couple of years, another branch at Joo Chiat in South Eastern Singapore. Open from 11 am to 11pm but they do close when there are no durians to sell. So be aware that this can happen during certain periods although this is infrequent as it is largely possible to get durians all year round. Check with them by phone if you’re not sure.

Durian Lingers

833 Bukit Timah Road,#01-08, Royal Ville (S) 279887 (map)
Tel: 6763 8382

Durian Cakes and Pastries at Pavilion Mall, Kuala Lumpur

Durian Booth Stall at Pavilion Mall, KL

Pavilion Mall is one of the places that we go to regularly for food, whether its to the Crystal Jade Kitchen or the Republic food court, or to La Bodega for some tapas once in a while. If you check out the booth type shops opposite JCo Donuts, the shops have had some turnover, for example Polar Pastries (famous for Singapore Cream Puff) has left. Lavender Cake Shop from Johor Bahru does a fairly roaring trade, more so than BreadTalk just across the walkway. Behind Lavender, you will notice that there is a shop selling assorted pastries made of Durian.

Called “Durian Durian” (could this be related to the shop in Singapore..? I thought it would be useful to document the items that they sell since they were kind enough to let me examine their products and take my photos.

It’s a nice and clean booth and you can see them making the durian pancakes fresh on the hot plate.

I didn’t try any of the durian goodies so please don’t take this as a recommendation but it is a good reference to know where you can get some of these goodies if you have a craving to satisfy.

Durian Pancakes

Now for close ups!

Durian Pancakes freshly made upon order, but I have no idea about the mochi.

Durian Puff anyone?

Fresh Durian Cream Puff

Durian Traditional Kueh Kueh

Durian Swiss Rolls - Chocolate, Vanilla, Pandan etc

Note that they specifically tell the consumer “We use only original pure durian”.

I haven’t tried any of these yet as I prefer the fresh fruit any day, but if you beat me to the taste test, do let me know…

Durian Muffins

Assorted Drinks to Cool Down After Durian

Durians at Jalan Alor, last of 2009

We had a guest, JC, on the 30th of December who was from Switzerland and it was his first time visiting Malaysia. It was actually his first trip to Asia.We had a long day at work and then decided to take him out for dinner to one of my usual Italian haunts on CBB (Delucca, if you must know) where we had further business discussions. After concluding the dinner at approximately 10pm, we felt bad about leaving him back at his hotel so early and decided to show him around some night spots of KL.

First on our agenda was to introduce him to durians and we decided on heading over to our favorite durian seller on Imbi, but it was too late as our usual seller had already packed up and left for home probably a good hour ago. Mildly disappointed, we contemplated giving up the search but thought we’d give Jalan Alor a go since there was more to see there in terms of nightlife as well. The usual traffic chaos in Jalan Alor was an experience in itself but made the anticipation of the durian all the more exciting.

Durian Stall on Jalan Alor
Jalan Alor Durian Stall

The Alor Durian Stall has not yet been featured in this blog, although I’ve been there several times, its usually a last resort as the traffic madness/ parking chaos and rates per kilo of durians tend to be more expensive than other stalls. However, I’m happy to say that this stall is a good fallback option, you just never know when you need to satisfy a craving or feed a friend. Furthermore, Jalan Alor is quite a scene, which is only special late and night, and the later the better, especially when the skies are dry.

Jalan Alor Durian Stall Durian Varieties

Where is the stall? Right at the beginning of Jalan Alor, which is a one way street so its hard to miss unless cars are parked in front of the stall. It has a prime spot on the junction as you turn into Jalan Alor, occupying the first lot on the left of Jalan Alor and I wouldn’t be surprised if the stall has the number 1 on it.

The durian selection isn’t wide, but that’s because it isn’t the season. The 2 durian species available at this stall are the common and reliable favorites, the Bamboo and the Mau Sang Wang. We ordered one of each just to show JC the difference between the 2 species.

Initially, he was a bit uncertain as to whether he would like it once we got to the stall (and I suppose he came into contact with the famous aroma) but we had him so psyched up about it that he felt he just had to have some in order not to disappoint us since we had gone through all this effort to find a stall. Quite game, we got him to start off with a small bite before we then also took our seeds.

JC tried his first Durian

He picked the smallest one to try first and this was his initial bite and reaction…

JC’s first reaction to Durian

We had a good laugh because he thought the taste was nothing at all like what it smelled like and his initial comment was “interesting”, which we took as a substitute for “disgusting”. But, he was game and after that first seed, took a few more.

Mau San Wang Durian from the Jalan Alor Stall

After the Bamboo, we proceeded to taste the MSW which looked very good and smooth. A fine yellow flesh which looked like it would yield beautifully to light pressure.

We used all sorts of european analogies to describe the taste of the MSW which fortunately JC could thoroughly appreciate. A wine, champagney taste of the MSW, like a fragrant smooth fermenting jam with an interesting fibrous yet smooth texture… JC expressed that he really preferred the MSW to the Bamboo. So we told him that indeed he should because the MSW was twice the price, kilo for kilo.

We think that he truly enjoyed the durian but couldn’t finish the seeds, which we cheerily mopped up on his behalf and proceed to feast on a few other fruits that he wanted to try. Namely mangosteen and rambutan from the stall next door which he successfully learned to open on his own. JC was also very impressed that we could sit outside on the bustling street at 10.30 pm at night (which he said is impossible in Switzerland) and had hand washing facilities and a crew that cleaned up the tables after us in record timing of a blink of an eye.  After consuming all these calories, we walked him down Jalan Alor and round Tengkat Tung Shin to Changkat Bukit Bintang, showing him the transition the neighbourhood is making from old to new.

JC met up with us again in Bangkok last week and told us that he tried the Thai durian, but was most disappointed as it lacked the oomph and distinct flavors of the Malaysian Durian. He’ll be back to support the durian industry for sure. We’ve won over another convert!

Durian D96: Details on another species

It is generally true in my experience that a deeper richer color and tone of the durian is an indicator of its flavor and taste personality. I blogged in a previous entry about the color of durians and its appeal to our visual cortex. Having said that, color does not always indicate a better flavor but may be used to compensate for poor flavor in order to attract the same amount of gastric interest.

Here’s a photo of the D96, how do you think the color rates on a scale of 1-10?

Depth of color: maybe a 7 or an 8

Appearance of texture: probably 7 or 8

Attractiveness of size: maybe an 8 or 9 (its not too big nor small)

Shape: Yes very shapely, maybe an 8

Flesh to fruit ratio: 5 (too much of the white bit)

Overall: a very decent 8 I’d say just looking at it.

BUT I’m sorry to tell you that tastewise the D96 fell short. It tasted more like a 4-5 disappointing the appearance of the fruit. Mediocre taste means that you could eat it and it is not intolerable but it isn’t incredibly special either, ie no, you wouldn’t order a second fruit.

If you don’t know what I mean by the description above and the comparisons of color, here’s a photo that will help with some perspective.

The D96 and the MSW Color Comparison

Durian D96 husk

The yellow-gold husk of the D96 Durian

On the left, the D96, and on the right, the incredibly reliable MSW which usually is already considered a deeper colored fruit as compared with the other species. The exterior does somewhat reflect the color inside (but I would never use this as a benchmark, merely as a singular observation) and note that the spikes are quite uniformly spikey and quite close together.

Have you had a D96? I wonder if there is great variation in the species where one D96 can be markedly different to another. If you’ve had one and it doesn’t sound like how I’ve described it, please do let me know…