Thursday, 5 July 2007

Durians! Durians! Durians!

It is the time of the year that the spiky fruit makes it appearance. Its arrival is subtly signaled by its unmistakable waft in the air. It was my mother, a self-confessed ‘addict’ who first broached the subject as she has a nose finely tuned to the fragrance of the fruit. Never a day would she be without her durian.

Orchard owners sell them from their loaded vans at strategic spots along busy roads. Fruit shops stack them one on top of the other for display. Four wheel carts sprout like mushrooms to tempt durian devotees. Kampong folks, who have a tree or two send them as gifts to friends and relatives.

What is the best durian? Some claim that the best are those that are bitter sweet and the flesh thick without being too creamy. Others prefer them to be sweet and creamy.

How does one select a good durian? My brother would swear by its smell and the movement of the seeds when shaken. How do you smell a durian? The spiky skin prevents you from putting your nose close to have a whiff. My brother would ingeniously place his palm over the bottom of the durian while cradling the whole durian in the other and sniff at the durian in the space between his thumb and forefinger. And he would take a few deep sniffs at it. He would then hold the durian close to his ear and shake it vigorously to confirm if it was the ‘dry’ or ‘wet’ type. He would stoutly swear by its 100 % accuracy. I suppose he must have learnt it from our maternal grandma and grandpa who ran a durian stall when they were alive.

Now consumers insist on seeing, poking and tasting, not merely smelling. Durian sellers have now resorted to guaranteeing

the quality of a durian by selecting the fruit and opening it for a customer to savour. If the customer is happy, he would have the rest of the durian packed into styrofoam containers to bring back. Such is the convenience provided that customers need not lug the heavy bag of the durians back. Neither do they need to open the durians. For those with little experience in prying open a durian, it is a frustrating job. But then it is a question of perception. There are those who would not want to be troubled by the tedious job; and there are those who would pry open the durian with utmost patience and anticipation because each durian is different from the other in shape, the manner the spikes are formed, its taste, its size and number of seeds, its thickness and texture of the flesh, and its smell. They are such individualistic fellows; it is a fruit like no other. You buy an apple and it tastes like any other apples; you buy a mango and it tastes like any other mangoes, only the sweetness varies.

Nowadays many durian fans insist that the durians of the past were much better than durians now. The reason: most durians sold are durian trees that have been bud-grafted to provide optimum harvest and superior quality to their flesh. But consumers have found that there is a kind of uniform thickness, sweetness and taste to their flesh that they find them boring! They are hankering after durians from trees that are not tempered with.

Then there are the durian lovers who swear by their claim that after eating them we must drink salt water from the durian shell to remove heatiness. The same durian lovers would tell us that we should not touch any alcohol during or after a durian feast. These old wives’ tales have been passed on from generation to generation that they have been accepted as truths. Interestingly, no scientific organizations have been able to verify them, although anecdotal evidence abounds to warn durian eaters of the dire consequences of not believing in them.

The Singapore Science Centre did conduct a study on the connection between durian and alcohol and concluded that “the consumption of durians with alcohol has not been shown to be harmful”.

Well, what about drinking salt water in a durian shell? There is no harm in it, is there?

For the devotees of the king of fruits, they may learn a thing or two from 'Durian Talk' at :

"How do we choice good durian?
For selected durians, the older the tree the better the fruits. Durians from an older tree will bear fruits having a wrinkled texture with smooth, thick, sticky and creamy flesh that tastes sweeter and have a stronger fragrance and flavour.

Durian are heated
Durians are rich in minerals, high calories, protein and they're "heated". To reduce this "heatedness" we fill the empty shell with salt water and drink it. The shell self contains anti-heat properties and it's an easy way to cool down your body's heat. Eating Mangos teen has a cooling effect also.

Why shaking the durian fruit ?
This is to conform whether the durian fruit inside is dry or wet. By holding the durian and shaking it, if you can feel and hear the movements inside it means the flesh does not stick on the shell, and that this is the dry type.

How to open a durian?
The best way to open the durian is from the bottom. Use a knife to slice it by follow the striate and it's quite easy to open. If you do not follow the striate, you will have difficulty opening it".

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