Described by some as a ferocious fruit with thorns and a revolting putrid smell, this fruit has garnered detractors and fans alike. Dubbed the King of Fruits, its pungent odour permeates a room and could linger for hours. Many argue that it’s not the taste that puts them off, but its disagreeable smell.
To some one who grew up with durian served on warm rice with a splash of coconut milk for dinner, ‘crazy about durian’ doesn’t even describe my husband’s fondness for the fruit.
Several months before the durian season, calls were made to the plantations to enquire if the durian trees are flowering. This would then lead to the countdown to when the fruit ripens and he would organize a 3-day fruit and food tour around Penang to feast on the king of fruits combined with the local delicacies. He often taunts that if you have not gained 3 kilograms, you have not visited Penang!
For my husband, he describes the fruit as a creamy custard-like pulp with an almost caramalised sweetness accompanied with a hint of bitterness that tease the tongue. He believes that Penang has the best collection of durian. A variety of names have been created, based on the first impression of the fruit. The durian variety ‘Lin Fong Chao’, was named after the wife of Jackie Chan, the actor, as the pale smooth flesh of the fruit resembles her smooth facial skin.
‘Ang Hae’ or Red Prawn because of the mild redness on the fruit, ‘Orh Chi’ or Black Thorn due to the black tips on the spikes on the durian. There’s even one called ‘Bak Yiu’ or ‘Lard’ as the texture of the fruit resembled crispy fried lard! The firm pulp yield with a crunch as you bite into the fruit to get to the custard filling that melts in your mouth!
The variety most sort after, Musang King, has been around for the past 40 years according to Mr Lim Peng Siew of Lim Brothers Orchard in Balik Pulau, Penang. It was known as Kunyit King he recalled.
The official registered name with the Malaysia Department of Agriculture’s National Registrar of Varieties listed it as ‘Raja Kunyit’, with the cultivar registered by Mr Wee Chong Beng from Kelantan in 1993. It was dubbed ‘Musang King’ after it has been rediscovered and grown commercially in Raub, the capital of Pahang state.
In Penang, the durians are never plucked. For an aromatic and flavourful durian, they must drop from the tree naturally with the most flavourful durians dropping during the dry spell.
China’s obsession with the fruit has extends greatly into the orchards in Malaysia where the Musang King variety is bud grafted on existing older trees. In China, its custom authority revealed that over 250 tons of durian is imported every year, with a market worth of US$22.3m. This tremendous demand has raised durian prices in Malaysia and also ushered in a slew of new food products created with durian filling or flavour. Besides durian cake and cookies, there are chocolate filled with durian, snowy moon cake with durian paste and even durian-flavoured coffee!
To me, the fruit has always smelled of turpentine with a hint of rotting onion. Though I have made several attempts to taste the fruit, the overwhelming flavour does not sit well with me. I have however, over the years, come to term that with every durian season, I will have to travel to the durian plantations with my husband, put up with the smell of durian in the car and the look of contentment on my husband’s face after another satisfying round of durian eating with friends.
Words by Rebecca PH Lee