There's a saying that a true Singaporean eats durians. Not all Singaporeans however enjoy eating the critically-acclaimed 'King of Fruits'. And who could blame them? With its distinctive smell and taste, once described by world-renowned naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace as a 'buttery custard flavoured with almonds, intermingled with wafts of flavour that call to mind cream cheese, onion sauce, brown sherry and other incongruities', like most 'political rulers' you would either love the durian or hate it to its core. While its spiky green exterior has found its way evem into the Esplanade's architectural design, its formidable odour has led to the durian's ban from hotel and public transport, such as buses, trains and cabs. Over the years tourists have been curious to known what the fuss is about, making the durian a must-try in Singapore.
The name ‘durian’ orginates from the Malay word ‘duri’ which means thorn, conjoined with the suffix -an to signify a noun. Durians are tropical fruits commonly cultivated in Southeast Asia. Durian trees grow up to 25-30m and is in season twice a year. Although there are durians available throughout the year, if you are around the region some time between June to August, then you are in luck as durians are usually cheaper and more readily available. Thankfully, not all of us have to go all the way out to have a bite of this delectable fruit. Durian fruit also contains a high amount of sugar, vitamin C, potassium, and a good source of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
Different types of Durian
Just as there is a variety of different types of apples from fuji, granny smiths to royal red, durians too come in a myriad of shapes and sizes. Although the taste is by and large the same, the different types vary in terms of their intensity of taste and smell, not to mention their origins. To date there are over 300 types of durians in Thailand and 100 types of durians graded according to size and quality in Malaysia, of which 44 are clones. Here are just some of the more commercialised ones that are popular here in Singapore.
The Sultan or D24 durians are possibly the most popular type of durian you would find around town, and used to be considered a “rich man’s durian” because of its high price. Commonly known for its bittersweet taste, small seeds and signature dark yellow flesh, it’s increasingly hard to tell D24s apart.
Mao Shan Wang, which means ‘mountain cat king’ in Mandarin, has been considered the king of all the durian varieties. The Mao Shan Wang possess a small seed which means you get more flesh to savour. The flesh is firm on the outside but creamy on the inside, topped with a neutralising bitter taste at the end, makes this a dream come true for every durian connoisseur.
Hong Xia, or Red Prawn, is named after its distinct reddish skin. It is also shrivels to the side like a prawn or a crescent moon. Also known as a D101 based on the Malaysian grading system, the Hong Xia is a creamier and sweeter alternative to the other types of durian around. The Hong Xia goes easy on the palate, meaning you can’t have one too many!
XO durians are one of those durians you might grow to love or hate. Named after the alcoholic aftertaste which lingers longer than its bitter taste, it is one of the best expensive durians around, which would only guarantee satisfaction if you like bitter flavours to start off with.
Mon Thong durians are usually a good start for those who are new and sceptical about the smell or taste. Originally from Thailand, Mon Thong, which means ‘golden pillow’, has a mild taste and a pale-coloured flesh makes it less repugnant as compared to its counterparts.
Golden Phoenix has a more runny texture which eludes a more pungent smell. Generally bitter, the Golden Phoenix is usually imported from Pahang and Johor.
Ganja, its name alluding to a drug-induced haze, is a Thailand-exported Ganja durian famous for its overpowering sweet flesh that would send you on a sugar high.
D11 is a crowd-pleaser as it is one of the less pungent varieties around. Its smooth and creamy flesh is accompanied with a sweet aftertaste.
D15 is a flesh variation of the D11. Although it has a a tinge of bitterness, the sweet and creamy aftertaste tends to make up for it.
How To Choose
Durians are typically either sold as an entire fruit or in boxes. If you are unsure as to how to crack open these spiky fruits, request for a durian to be packed for you. Here are just a few things to look out for when to ensure that you’re getting your money’s worth.
- Go for the odd shaped, grapefruit looking durians rather than the perfectly round ones.
- Using a towel to hold the side of the durian, give it a good shake. You should be able to hear the seeds and fruits rattling inside, like ball bearings trapped inside a container. If you don’t hear anything, chances are the flesh has not properly separated from the skin, meaning that it has not fully ripened or that there are not many seeds inside.
- Hold the fruit close to your nose and smell. You should be able to smell the fragrance even before the fruit is cut.
- Usually a merchant would pry open a section of the fruit for you to inspect. Whether you are picking from inspection a portion or choosing from a range of already packed-durians, the skin of the fruit itself should feel soft and tender when you gently glide over the surface. If it feels hard to touch, the fruit is unripe. Depending on what type of durian you are going for, the colour of the flesh would differ. You can generally expect some slight blemishes, but as long as there are no dull grey patches, it is ready to be consumed.
Where to Go
While durians can be found practically at every turn during the seasonal periods from June to August, there are still some famous stalls that sell the king of fruits all year round. Your best bet would be along Chinatown in front of People's Park Centre, 717 Trading at Highland Centre at 22 Yio Chu Kang Rd and a notorious stretch of stalls located along Sims Avenue Lorong 17 and Lorong 15 at Geylang.
Durian merchants typically charge S$8 to S$15 per kilogram of fruit which usually translates to an average durian fruit costing about S$12 to S$22. Durian enthusiasts, particularly locals, would be willing to spend close to S$80 for a quality durian.
If you are unsure what type of durian you might like or want to sample the various types available, try Four Seasons Durians cafe at Joo Chiat Road and sample four premium durians accompanied with specialist advice and commentaries. Placing a reservation is required at least two days in advance with a minimum of 10 diners.
Over the years the Durian Fiesta at Goodwood Park Hotel has cultivated its own cult following. Held annually from 1 March to 31 July, the hotel’s buffet is filled with a vast range of delicacies based solely on nothing but durians.
Held annually from 1 June to 31 July is the rival durian buffet served at Café Vic, Carlton Hotel. This not only boasts of its continual creation of new durian products, but also features a durian corner which serves up freshly opened durians for its hardcore fans.
Recommended Durian Products
If you think you cannot stomach the real thing, buying some of these durian by-products might be a good alternative. Durian flesh usually used in these products are not as strong and therefore not as tasty as eating the fruit on its own.
Various hawker stalls have incorporated durian pastes into classic dessert favourites such as chendol - a coconut milk-based beverage consisting of pandan leaf extract and palm sugar - and ice-kachang - a dessert made out of shaven ice, colouring and red beans.
Another classic durian product that you might want to check out is the Potong Durian ice-cream. Potong Durians, as they are known in short, are available in most convenience shops around the suburban neighbourhood. Specialised gelato outlets such as Udders and The Daily Scoop also offer a slightly pricier alternative with their durian flavored gelato made out of real durian. Durian mooncakes have also become prevalent over the recent years during the mooncake festival.
Elsewhere, other pastries have also used durian puree as the main ingredient for their products, ranging from durian cakes, puffs and sandwiches. Companies such as 717 Trading and Emicakes have booths set up in the centre of food courts in shopping malls and around the neighbourhood.
Hard liquor is strictly not recommended after eating one of these glorious fruits. According to Chinese medicine, foods are generally classified into 'heaty' and 'cooling'. Durians are of a very heaty nature while hard liquor is said to have a cooling effect, hence combining the two makes it a lethal combination. Locals will testify to the many vomiting incidences that doing this has caused. More scientific studies have shown that the presence of harmaline in durian kernels and the fruit pulp will induce high blood pressure when coming into contact with alcohol. These hypertensive periods can sometimes lead to a hemorrhagic stroke. Although your safest bet is not to consume any alcohol at all for the rest of the day, if you really have to, wait at least three to six hours after consumption.
Another light-hearted fact about the durian is that it has been said to contain mild antiseptic properties which the Chinese would extract and use to wash their hair.
In Malaysia, an extract of the leaves and roots are used to cure fever. The leaf juice is then applied on the head of a fever patient. Exactly how effective this is, however, is any one's guess.
Durians are often accompanied by the “queen of fruits”, the mangosteen. Known for their ‘cooling’ properties, mangosteens are often eaten to offset the ‘heaty’ durian. Nevertheless, mangosteens are a refreshing way to balance out the overwhelmingly creamy properties of the durian.
Eating too much durian might also result in suffering from a sore throat. Simply washing it down with salt water drunk from the husk however has been a popular remedy performed by locals.
Over the years, seasoned durian consumers have adopted certain methodologies to remove the lingering durian odour from their hands. The trick? Pour water into the durian husk and rub your fingers and hands from there. It has been said that the enzymes from the husk acts as a stench-absorbing agent. Durian seeds can also be used to work on those hard-to-reach crevices under the fingernails.
Durians: Singapore's National Fruit