Friday, October 5, 2007

King of Fruits (PEN)

"To eat durians is a new sensation worth a voyage to the east to experience", declared Victorian naturalist Alfred Wallace. I heartily agree.

Native to the southeast asian region, the durian is pretty much the only fruit to have rabid fans. Folks may like apples, or they may like grapes, some may like strawberries, and some may like oranges, but only the King of Fruits, the durian, can have throngs of fans who absolutely love it.

Nectar of the gods

The word durian, is derived from the malay word for thorn - duri. The durian is covered in a thorny husk, reminiscent of a medieval mace. Once opened, the edible custard-like flesh within emits its distinctively strong odor. This is the moment where true fans start to salivate, and the others evacuate.

Durians sold today are mainly cultivars (clones). These cultivars were usually grown from prized seeds but are now usually grafted onto rootstocks. Cultivars are also have names like ang heh, or the famous D24. D24 is usually the yardstick other cultivars are measured against.

Surviving only in climates that do not go below 22C, durian trees thrive on the island of Penang. It may sound like I'm being biased (and I'm not), the best durians in the world, are from Penang - Balik Pulau to be specific.

You can't have just one

During the durian season, the wonderful aroma blankets Balik Pulau like a diaphanous layer of silk, its allure too tempting to ignore. We once had the fortune of being invited to a tasting there - it was phenomenal. Durian after durian was opened and served. These were reserved durians, the creme de la creme, never to be sold on the open market, only kept for special events and the well connected. I had never eaten so many amazing durians in my life. There were reds, whites, orange, bitter, sweet, bitter & sweet, citrus-like - a pandora's box of flavors blowing open the range of your taste palette. At this tasting, the D24 cultivar was pushed to the side, imagine - the yardstick was playing second fiddle for the afternoon. If you're ever invited to a tasting in Balik Pulau, two words - show up.

Best tree to plant in your backyard

What's the best way to find a good durian? Forget rattling the durian, or inspecting the stem. The key to a good durian is to network. Call your folks, your friends, or friends of friends. They may know someone who owns a plantation, or have built up a trusting relationship with a seller. Just ask, it's worth it.