Durian Durian

Delightful organic durian
At a recent fruit fest, the organizers generously provided some 800kg of durian for guests to enjoy.  The durian tasting session should start in half an hour but I saw a few die-hard durian fans stand near the fruit table and a queue suddenly formed behind them, snaking long and winding around the event area. 

Once the D24, D2 and D13 durians were opened, they did not hesitate to pick up their share and could not resist going back again and again to help themselves to more of the plump yellow-fleshed durian seeds. 

I was appalled at such selfish behaviour and much relieved when a staff stopped them from jumping the queue and gently advised them to join the queue again for their next helping.  After all, there was a queue of people who have yet to enjoy their first taste.  It was disturbing that these seemingly educated, civilized and matured-looking people were driven to behave in such an uncouth manner because of their desire for more durians. 

Unloading baskets of durian at Fruit Fest
At every season, it’s common for unscrupulous durian sellers to take advantage of durian lovers and I have heard tales of their greed to earn extra money through cheating by manipulating the weighing scales. 

Or by a sleight of hand, they can switch a bag of carefully chosen durians for rotten ones, so that by the time the customer discovers it at home, it would be too late or inconvenient to return the fruits.  This often happens at make-shift stalls because they know that customers cannot find them again if they returned to that spot. 

One devious durian dealer may never forget that day when he used this trick on my Uncle Roland because uncle is not someone who takes such dishonesty lightly.  He was going from Johor Baru to visit relatives in Malacca and stopped along the way to buy some buah tangan but was greatly embarrassed because the durians turned out to be rotten.  Now every season when we come across any dodgy looking durians, this incident is retold because we can never forget how uncle brought the rotten durians to track down the dishonest dealer and made him regret what he did. 

Durians are not welcome in hotels
Another favourite family durian anecdote is about Uncle Arthur, who as a boy had the misfortune of being hit on his head by a falling durian.  At that time, the family lived in an area around a pond in Johor Baru, close to what is now known as Jalan Quek Keng Kang, where there were many durian, chiku, rambutan and star-fruit trees. 

When it happened, uncle was of course, momentarily stunned but had no lasting injury because he’s a father of two and recently celebrated his 69th birthday.  Uncle happens to have a healthy appetite for durian and my guess is it’s because he is eating with a vengeance.

With the durian season in full swing, I’m receiving invitations to durian plantations for durian feasts, but my first question is, “Do you provide helmets?”  They think I’m joking and just paranoid but I don’t fancy getting a thorny durian falling from a height on my head as it can cause serious damage.  And I don’t have a head as resilient as my uncle’s. 

Durians - delightful or disgusting?
Last week when the topic of durians came up in conversation, my friend Linda confessed that she and her husband can skip a meal and substitute it with durian.  If there was any excess, it was packed and refrigerated, ready to be eaten for breakfast.  

Unlike them who have each other to share their durian craze, my Uncle Victor, the family’s durian king, ironically married a woman who doesn’t like fruits.  Maybe it’s a good thing because when his children are not at home, he would bring his durians over to enjoy with us.

The other night, Uncle Victor brought a stash of the choicest kampong durian to share with us and I observed how skillfully he opened the fruits and neatly split open every uneven wedge.  

When a wedge that had worms was opened, he proved to be a true connoisseur because he was fearless and even helped himself to the seeds in the same worm-ridden wedge.  I thought a lesser durian enthusiast may just discard the worm-infested wedge but not Uncle Victor who truly knows how to appreciate good durian.

Drinking a mixture of salt water in an empty durian
pod removes pungent smell and discourages throat infection
Durian fans are aware of its warming properties so they counteract it with various remedies believed to help cool the body system.  One way is to eat durian along with mangosteen which is supposed to contra off the durian’s heat effects.  I was taught the traditional method of mixing salt water in an empty pod to drink and wash my hand.  Amazingly this will not only remove the pungent smell from my hand and mouth but will also discourage any throat infection.

During the season, some fans will buy fresh durian and pack them in deep freeze so that it can be taken out, thawed and slowly savoured whenever there was a crave for its delectable custard-like taste.  It’s interesting that once you get past the smell, there’s so much to enjoy and I take my hat off to foreigners with an adventurous palate who have acquired a taste for this fruit which is banned in many places because of its smell.  It’s been described to smell like garbage, dead meat and dirty socks but love it or loathe it durian is clearly here to stay.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 9 September 2011

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