Durian Fruit: The King of Fruit

September 22, 2006

My friend Val once told me a story involving the very odiferous durian fruit – known in Asia as "the King of Fruit" but durian fruit is banned in public places such as subways, malls and hotels.

She and her family were visiting Malaysia a few years ago but had a stop over in Singapore. Her parents, who had moved to Canada about 30 years earlier, were chomping at the bit for durian. This was NOT permitted in the hotel but they went out and got one anyway from a local market.

"We have located the durian smell to this room, please step aside."

"They brought it back and it was like they were little kids again. Giggling and all a-twitter about the durian. They opened it up in the hotel room and started to eat. I think only a few minutes had passed and we got a phone call."

The hotel staff demanded to know if they had durian in the room. Her mother lied. The official replied: "Madam, we have had reports of a durian smell in your vicinity, please tell us if you have durian." Mom did not relent.

Her parents opened all the windows and were furiously fanning the room with the hotel magazine when they heard a knock on the door. A man dressed like an astronaut was standing on the other side.

"We have located the durian smell to this room, please step aside."

Two men, wearing the ridiculous suit and bearing a spray can charged in and spent the next five minutes atomizing the hotel room. Val's parents stood in the corner looking very much like the naughty children that they had been.

"It is of such an excellent taste that it surpasses in flavour all the other fruits of the world."
(quote from a British traveller about durian in 1599)

How to eat Durain fruit

Durian, looking much like a large spiky tribble (spot the Star Trek reference!), comes in nine edible varieties and is native to southeast Asia. It's sold in markets all over the Asian world and now, even in North America. By the time it's arrived on our shores, its smell is barely perceptible.

People have different ways of picking durian fruit, to see if it's ready to eat. My parents like to smell the bottom of the stem. If it emits a strong smell, then it's ready to consume. Some people prefer the tapping method. Hitting the fruit with a stick and hearing the appropriate slightly-hollow "thunk" sound. Of course, this is something you'd have to learn from a durian jedi.

Durian's brownish-green exterior belies a silky, custard-like flesh clinging to the giant seeds inside. My parents usually lay out newspaper on their kitchen floor in order to cut the fruit in half using a cleaver. It will reveal four seeds covered in pale yellow flesh. You dig out a giant seed and proceed to suck the creamy flesh. Beware, it's very filling. Durian, if you can stand the smell, has a delectable, sweet flavour. For me, it's akin to vanilla pudding.

I have an ethnic bond to durian. According to the experts, the locus of durian diversity is on the island of Borneo where I was born. Those on Borneo have a passion for durian fruit that is also shared by the orangutans of the island.

While durian fruit is not native to Thailand, the country has become the largest exporter of the fruit. It was introduced to Thailand during the 18th century.

Other durian-growing regions include Vietnam, Myanmar, India, Sri Lanka, Florida, Hawaii, Madagascar and Mindanao in the Philippines. By the way, the Kadayawan festival in Davao City, Mindanao has an annual celebration featuring durian. I have also heard of similar festivals in Thailand.

Remember when purchasing durian to look for the "24" category. It's got the deepest flavours.

Durian Dishes

  • In Malaysia, durian fruit is used to flavour candy, cakes, mousse, chips, ice cream and milkshakes. There's a dish, pulut durian, of glutinous rice steamed with coconut milk and served with ripe durian (I think this is also available in Thailand). Sugared and salted preserves are also created from durian.
  • Sambal Tempoyak is a dish from Sumatra composed of fermented durian, coconut milk and the ultra-spicy sambal sauce.
  • Sometimes the seeds are roasted, boiled or fried and have a consistency that's reminiscent of yams. In Java, seeds are thinly sliced and cooked with sugar to eat as candy.
  • In parts of Indonesia, the young leaves of durian are sometimes cooked as vegetables and the petals of durian flowers are also eaten.

Durian Tourism

The Boa Sheng Durian Farm on the island of Penang in Malaysia offers a full tourist experience of the King of Fruit. The farm has different species of the fruit and you are shown around the farm and given a tasting. Apparently several of its fruit have won top prizes.

And, if you're in Singapore, you should stop by the Four Seasons Dessert Shop (in the China Square Food Centre), which is a durian smorgasboard. Everything is made from durian: from cakes to puddings to crepes.