I said I’d eat durians right after I got off the plane but I didn’t, I had laksa. But that’s just cos Katong is closer to the airport than Geylang. So durians were second and I waited till I got home as well.

We stepped up to a random stall and just picked up 6 for $40. The guy asked us, “sweet or bitter?”. The unanimous answer was, unquestionably, “Bitter!”. The dude picked one up, shook it, sliced it once, then inserted the knife at the top end, splitting the fruit open in one motion, proffering it to my mother, who poked at the tender yellow flesh. This live shucking process is a commonplace practice conducted between durian buyer and seller, affirming that the quality of the product is sufficient versus the price. It’s also an important step in the gastronomic enjoyment of the king of fruits steeped in centuries of tradition and lore, myth and culture.

durian-in-plastic

How to tell if a durian is good? Like anything else, its all about your senses. The first thing that should hit you, especially now in the literal heat of the durian season, is the smell. It should stink the living shit out of an entire block. In a good way. Durian is such a complex creamy fruit. When allowed to ripen, enzymes within the fruit produce a harmonious blend of flavors and increasingly soften the flesh till it resembles El Bulli style sferificacions of liquid creme brulee in a sac. This ripening process is most pronounced with its smell, which is what lures the animals and humans in.

Next up, you lift up the fruit and feel its weight. It shouldn’t be too heavy. Compare with another one and you’ll see. Reason being the lighter it feels, the more flesh is likely to be present versus the seed content. Then you shake. This lets you know if the parcels within have a layer of air between the husk and the flesh and the compactness of the contents. If you hear little, its probably unripe. If you hear something, its all good.

Following which, the next step would be to split it open and look at the flesh and feel it. Depending on taste, you can opt for anything between a firm to near liquid flesh.

The main thing isn’t paying for the most expensive ones but getting to know which stage of ripeness you like your durian and what style. Just like cheese. Beginner durians would have to be Thai durians, which are humongous outside and in. The seeds are shockingly massive and the amount of flesh is too. Tastewise, it ranges from mild to sweet custard like. The next step is the typical durian or intermediate stage, where you’re going for firm fleshed, Malaysian/Indonesian durians which are glossy fleshed and dry on the surface but very moist within. These babies run smaller than the Thai variety but pack more flavor and you also gain increasing amounts of bittersweetness that cuts through the heaviness.

The creme de la creme, durians for gourmands only, which I will surely sample on a later date, are ugly as shit. The fruit itself is typically wonky shaped. The more normally shaped a durian is, the less pronounced the flavors will be. Do note that even the Thai durians can have a very strong flavor, its still a relatively simple one. These near decomposition specimens that I mention are on another level altogether. The next thing is the color of the flesh. The greyer/greener it is, the better. Not always true as some very mildly yellow fleshed varietals can be amazing as well but generally, the grey durians take the crown. These defy comprehension. Pure flavor, complex and bitter, yet sweet, moist and brimming with a zillion interfaces on your tongue. One taste and you’re either coughing up last night’s dinner or gone to an imaginary heaven.

To eat the durian, you basically split the fruit into segments. The vendor would have already opened up the first segment for you. If you have a fruit that is untouched, you can slash a diagonal across the fruit slightly, to see where the seam lies, then apply a knife in at the top end of that seam, twisting with some force to pry it open. Once you’ve done that, you’ve got the first segments to savour. Following which, you need to split open more segments when you’re done with those first tastes. This step is usually done by hand, placing the palms on either side, with the center seam in the middle. You apply downward pressure until it splits and repeat as necessary, being careful not to press on the spikes. This can get awkward with really wonky shaped ones, where the seam is a tight parabolic curve. But patience and hard work tend to be rewarded well.

durian

Within each segment, you find a row of seeds covered in the tender flesh. You can find anywhere from 1 piece to a row of 6 or even more seeds, although it tends to be 1-4 seeds typically. The singular seeds tend to be the “perfect” ones, with a whole sac and a lovely shape. I have yet to conduct controlled taste tests with qualified durian tasters to determine if the placement and shape of each individual seed has any impact on flavor.

The fruit itself is basically composed of 5 parts. There’s the tan colored seed in the middle. You can get shrunken ones and even guaranteed genetically modified ones that come with shrunken seeds and hence, more flesh. This hard seed is like one huge nut that can actually be cooked and eaten. The top bit of the seed is white and its where it attaches to the husk. Its slightly fibrous in feel. Then there’s the flesh, which surrounds the seed and the color can range from off white to golden yellow, through to oranges, pinks and even reds. The green/grey version I mentioned before is a relative rarity, a gift from the durian gods bestowed amongst humanity. The flesh itself is covered by a thin sac, which gets weakened the riper the fruit is. Below the flesh is another layer, a thin film, which is gelatin like in texture and not creamy. It wraps around the bottom end of the seed.

durian-aftermath

Consumption can involve a variety of methods but suffice to say, you want to take it easy. First, get some newspaper. This is essential as it helps cleaning up and is essential in setting the tone, like drinking wine with a decanter but practical. Next, prep the fruit then smell, chew and move it all around the mouth, letting your body warmth realize the potential of the fruit before you swallow and feel that bitterness at the back of the throat. My personal method is taking a deep whiff, then creating a hole in the protecting film through the suction method. This also allows for an intake of custard. Then I place the seed 3/4ths the way in and surround it, using the lips to slide the cream off. Obviously, this involves smaller seeds. Next, the teeth come into play, prying off the final film, before a few flicks of the tongue ends things in a final flourish. When you get thirsty, and you will because its so rich, take a husk segment and fill it with water and then drink that. This old wives’ practice apparently helps to kill bad smells. I have yet to verify this in double blind taste tests involving hot girls. Those interested can apply in the comments boxes with a recent passport sized photo and ID certifying you’re over 18.

durian-water

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