Friday, May 20

Oh joy! Durians and more durians!


“A RICH custard highly flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes. Then there is a rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy.” — Naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace describing the taste of a durian in 1856

The durian. There cannot possibly be another more anticipated seasonal fruit in this part of the world.

Although advancements in technology have made it possible to have durians all year round these days, true durian lovers will look forward to the fruiting season at the end of the year for the all natural local durian species.

True durian lovers will travel great lengths to get hold of what they deem the best fruit around.

In Kuching, Pasir Pandak is known for having some of the best durians in town. Middlemen who sell durians in market places in town and near residential areas are known to label their fruits as Durian Pasir Pandak because they know that durian lovers will surely buy them.

Whether they are truly from Pasir Pandak, or otherwise, well, that’s a different story.

Others from different areas in Sarawak will beg to differ, and claim that theirs are the best.

Where ever the durian comes from, the king of fruits is never lacking in hardcore fans.

Businessmen have been known to pay up to RM50 for one single fruit sold by the local natives at pit-stops and markets on the outskirts of town, just so that they can savour that oh-so-unique taste and satisfy their cravings.

But not everyone is a fan. We would think that Caucasians are not particularly fond of the king of fruits because of its smell from the many writings we have come across.

Nineteenth century American journalist Bayard Taylor wrote: “To eat it seems to be the sacrifice of self-respect.” French naturalist Henri Mouhot said: “On first tasting it I thought it like the flesh of some animal in a state of putrefaction.”

So strong is the smell, that durians are banned from hotels, aeroplanes and most air-conditioned areas.

But times are changing. These days it is not rare to see a Mat Salleh scouring the roadside for the best pick of durians in town.

It has also become quite common for exclusive restaurants that serve local delights to have durian infused dishes on their menus.

In recent years, research and technology have created durians that do not emit a strong smell. Yet, to the durian lover, there is nothing more heavenly than the smell of a good, ripe durian.    “A durian without the smell is not a durian. The satisfaction of eating durians comes from the smell, the taste, the texture of its flesh – a good durian is almost orgasmic,” said one durian aficionado.

It is also interesting to watch how the true durian lover picks the best from the lot.   For many of us, it is in the thorns and stem. You have to make sure that there are signs that the durian fell when it ripened, and was not picked.

Then you have to listen to the fruit while shaking it, take a sniff at it, turn it around in your hands several times, take another sniff, inhale deeply and savour the scent. Does the durian talk to you? Is it calling out to you, telling you that this is the good stuff?

It takes a certain skill to open the shell of the durian. A true durian fan will know exactly where to insert the parang or a large knife to prise a durian open in clean-cut partitions.

Fresh durian flesh is not the only way one can consume the king of fruits.

In Melaka, durians are made into sticky candy called dodol while there are those who also believe that the durian is also an aphrodisiac.

The durian is also believed to have nutritional value by some communities.   The Thais believe that it can strengthen the body, so their women consume durians after illnesses or when in confinement. The Cantonese, meanwhile, cook the inside of durian shell in soup as a tonic.

Locally, the durian shell is used to counter the smell of the durian. We run water through the shell to wash our hands to get rid of the strong smell of durians after eating them.

The core of the durian seeds are also sometimes eaten —– one gets a nutty and waxy texture when the seeds are boiled and the outer layer stripped away.

Very popular in Malaysia is tempoyak — fermented durian that goes well on its own with hot steaming rice, or fried with ikan pusu (anchovies) and some chilli.  Tempoyak can also be made into a soup or cooked with meat.

Just the thought of it is now making the Eye’s mouth water! Time now to head on out for a durian hunt, which may result in a long drive out of the city, just for the best picks of the king of fruits.

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