The deal with durian: Coconuts Bangkok’s definitive guide to the King of Fruits

Durian season has arrived, allowing aficionados to indulge in the thick, soft and custardy flesh of the “King of Fruits.” Below, Coconuts presents you with a glimpse into the nature and history of durian, as well as an accompanying guide to the best durian varieties, menus, festivals and A-listed marketplaces.

The spiky royal

Durian, pronounced in Thai as Tu Rean, is undoubtedly the most popular summer fruit in Thailand, if not the whole of Southeast Asia. The fruit is very nutritious, with high amounts of vitamins and minerals. It also serves as a good source of dietary fiber, carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

Durian is commonly known as the “King of Fruits” thanks to its enormous size, sharp smell, memorable flavor and innumerable, intimidating thorns. This latter feature has proven deadly as well as daunting to potential consumers. From time-to-time durian collectors are killed while on duty due to a random, falling fruit.

However, the durian’s kingship derives not only from its look and brutal strength. Thai people allegedly awarded the fruit its title after noticing the resemblance of durian spikes to a king’s crown. Where and when this name originated still forms matter for debate.

The “Queen of Fruits” is mangosteen, a title it reserved thanks to the similarity of the fruit’s stem to the four, cup-shaped leaves of a queen’s crown. It seems that the Thai people had the Imperial State Crown of the UK in mind when coming up with this moniker. This charter story also differs greatly, depending on who tells it. Some folklore imparts a tale of Queen Victoria’s great desire for the fruit, which led her to give mangosteen its royal status.

The first evidence of durian consumption in Thailand came in the form of a journal written by Monsieur de la Boubre, a French envoy who was sent by King Louis XIV to take part in trade talks with what was then the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Monsieur de la Boubre reached Thailand in 1687 during the reign of King Narai the Great. He wrote about his bad impression of the stinky fruit in a journal he published after returning to Paris in 1693.

Thailand once submitted the name “Durian” to the naming list for tropical cyclones, adopted by the ESCAP/WMO Typhoon Committee for the Western North Pacific and the South China Sea. Because of the massive damage and large amount of casualties caused by Typhoon Durian in 2006, the Committee decided to withdraw Durian from the list. Thailand proposed that the Committee replace Durian with “Mangkhut,” or mangosteen, in December 2007.

Three Best Varieties

The durian season lasts from roughly April to August. The harvest begins in eastern Thailand at the beginning of the season before moving on to the South. Despite its year-round availability in Bangkok, made possible by harvesting tricks and preservation technologies, durian is best eaten during the harvest season, as it naturally comes in abundance and at its finest ripeness.

It is at their first bite that most eaters decide whether they despise or adore durian. Some who have a strong sense of smell may even know the second the fruit’s husk is cracked open. If you pass the odor test, flavor is the next place to try your judgement.

The three most popular durian varieties in Thailand are Monthong (Golden Pillow), Kanyao (Long Stalk) and Chanee (Gibbon). Their names derive from their appearances: the large, thick segments of yellowish meat of Monthong resemble a golden pillow; Kanyao has long stem, and Chanee always sticks to the end of branches like a gibbon hanging on a tree.

Monthong

For the uninitiated, Monthong should serve as your first venture into the realm of durian. It has the mildest odor, a firm texture and a delicate, sweet flavor. In fact, you may already be familiar with Monthong, if you’ve experienced durian in western countries. The variety dominates most durian markets abroad.

Monthong is rusty green in color, oblong in shape and medium-to-large in size. It typically weighs from two to five kilograms per fruit. This variety has a high ratio of meat to seed and often comes in large, rounded segments. Its off-white flesh is still firm even when fully ripe, and serves as an ingredient in many processed durian products. Thanks to organized planting techniques, Thai markets never run out of Monthong, unlike Chanee and Kanyao. The price of Monthong ranges from THB70 to THB110 per kilogram.

Kanyao

Kanyao holds a reputation as the best durian variety among local aficionados. Compared to Monthong, Kanyao is yellower, softer, sweeter and sharper in scent. Its shape is uniquely oblate with a stalk that can measure up to one foot. Kanyao’s average size is three kilogram per fruit and a typical will have many large seeds.

Thanks to its perfect combination of taste and texture, Kanyao commands the highest prices of any durian varietal. The current price per kilogram for a grade-A Kanyao is THB130 to THB170. Kanyao that originates from Nonthaburi is regarded as the most delectable and commands the highest price. One fruit can cost THB7,000 to THB10,000. A local joke holds that Nonthaburi Kanyao growers cannot afford to taste their own ambrosial produce.

Chanee

Chanee is the most sophisticated durian varietal in terms of both taste and texture. Its meat is vivid yellow, syrupy, buttery and fibrous. This latter characteristic disqualifies Chanee from being processed into other durian products. The flesh also turns very mushy when ripe, a factor that makes many nauseous and subsequently prevents them from giving it a second try. So, if you have a bad experience with durian, Monthong may help you reconcile with the fruit. However, to many durian fanatics, Chanee’s excessive softness is appealing, as it comes alongside an amazing, bittersweet taste and fragrance.

Chanee is small-to-medium in size, averaging 2.5 kilograms per fruit. Its stalk is short and its seeds are mostly aborted. One kilogram of Chanee costs THB35 to THB70. Despite a limited supply, and even an occasional shortage, Chanee’s price remains low throughout the season.

How & Where

At this time of year, durian is seen packed in produce stalls all over the country, from roadside carts to supermarkets and high-end grocery stores. But before buying, you should make sure that your pick matches your preference for ripeness and flavor.

You can consult these issues with durian dealers but if you want to test one yourself, easy tricks are to shake, smell and touch the fruit. First, hold a durian with both hands and give it a tender shake. No sound means the fruit is too ripe and a hard knocking sound means that it is not ripe enough. As for smelling and touching, the more pungent in smell and soft in texture, the riper the fruit is, and vice versa.

Durian is sold in two forms – whole fruit and flesh alone. This second type typically comes on a Styrofoam plate. The prices can be very different. For instance, the rate of Monthong flesh can go up to around THB500 to THB700 per kilogram, compared to a scant THB100 per kilogram for the whole fruit. However, this is business as usual and you should not feel deceived over the difference.

Which form is better? Most will agree that freshly peeled fruit, straight from the shell, is far preferable. But most of the time, both forms of durian give an almost identical experience. Once you have found your favorite, hand it over to dealers for peeling. They will cut it open for you free of charge so you do not have to tackle the whole fruit at home.

Or Tor Kor Market and Yaowarat are best two places to buy durian. Dealers in these locations offer friendly service and the top-notch fruit. Both sites are convenient to reach. Despite prices set predictably higher than other markets, the two sites are well worth visiting. The handpicked, exquisitely wrapped fruits at these two locales rarely let visitors down.

FIND IT:

Or Tor Kor Market

Kamphaengphet Road, opposite Chatuchak Weekend Market 

Exit 3 at Kamphaeng Phet MRT station

Yaowarat

Yaowarat Road

For hardcore durian fans, the fruit can be obtained in bulk at cheap prices at Talad Thai and Talad Si Mum Muang in Pathum Thani. Going to these two markets gives you an excuse to check out other fruits and vegetables as well.

FIND IT:

Talad Thai

31 Moo 9 Phaholyothin Road km.42, Klong 1, Klongluang, Pathum Thani

02-9084490-9

Talad Si Mum Muang

355/115-116 Moo 15 Phaholyothin Road, Khukhot, Lam Luk Ka, Pathum Thani

02-995-0610-3

Not satisfied yet? Fear not, for two, large-scale durian festivals await you. “Durian Non’ 2013” will be staged from May 21 to 30 at Central Plaza Rattanathibet. There you can browse through rows of luxurious Nonthaburi durian and sample some of them as well.

From June 1 to 10, Chanthaburi will hold “Fruit Fun Fresh Festival” to showcase the best durian varieties from the province’s 10 districts. At the event, you will see a giant-sized durian capable of feeding a whole village. Previously known as “World Durian Festival,” the event takes place at Chanthaburi’s largest public park and features numerous activities, such as a beauty pageant, demonstrations and a speed eating competition.

FIND IT:

Durian Non’ 2013

May 21 to 30

Central Plaza Rattanathibet

Rattanathibet Road, Bangkrasor, Nonthaburi

Fruit Fun Fresh Festival

June 1 to 10

Chanthaburi Central Stadium and Tung Na Choey Park, Chanthaburi

Appetizing Alternatives

In addition to devouring durian right from the husk, there are several other fine ways to sample the fruit as well.

Khao Niao Tu Rean (Sweet sticky rice with durian in coconut milk)

Khao Niao Tu Rean is one of the best desserts both in the durian menu and normal Thai sweet categories. The tinge of saltiness in the milky soup goes well with the taste of sugary fruit and sticky rice. When judging the quality of your Khao Niao Tu Rean, take into account the softness, aroma and quality of sticky rice.

Below are the four best places to grab a Khao Niao Tu Rean in Bangkok.

FIND IT:

Boonsap

1478 Charoen Krung Road, Bangrak

085-364-9789

Loong Piek

1209 Thoet Thai Road, Talat Phlu, Thonburi

Mae Waree

Sukhumvit 55 or Soi Thong Lor (Look for a giant mango)

02-392-4804

Mae Prapaisri

Or Tor Kor Market

02-527-1407

Tu Rean Tod (Durian chips)

Tu Rean Tod is deep-fried, unripe durian meat. This dish is very popular and can be found most everywhere. Some Thais prefer Tu Rean Tod to potato chips, as it does not have durian smell and its texture is not as dry as that of a potato. Tu Rean Tod comes in various packages and sizes. One hundred grams will typically cost you THB35-50.

I Tim Tu Rean (Durian ice cream)

Despite what you might think, I Tim Tu Rean has met with a harsh reception here in Thailand. It might be because good durian ice cream recipes are rare or because ice cream makers do not think they can earn a good profit by making ice cream from the pricey fruit.

Below are three different styles of durian ice cream you should try: Thai-style durian coconut milk ice cream at Sriyan, durian popsicle at Kiintim and westernized durian ice cream served on top of soft jelly at Seefah.

FIND IT:

Ice Cream Sriyan

Talad Sriyan Market, Nakhon Chai Si Road, Dusit

02-241-4008

Kiintim

Yaowarat Road

089-927-9425

Seefah (Check the website for other branches)

Siam Square Soi 9, Rama 1 Road, Pathumwan

02-251-5517

Durian Cake

In Bangkok, crepe cake and macaroons greatly outnumber durian cake. However, luscious creamy durian cake can be found at famous restaurant chain Coffee Bean by Dao and The Montien Bangkok Hotel.

FIND IT:

Coffee Bean by Dao (Check the website for other branches)

20/12-15 Soi Ruamrudee, Ploenchit Road, Lumpini, Pathumwan

02-154-7117-9

Monthien Bakery

54 Surawongse Road

02-233-7060

Tu Rean Guan (Durian Cake)

Tu Rean Guan should serve as the final test of your affection for durian. If you enjoy the dish, then your love affair with the fruit is all but sealed.

Tu Rean Guan is labeled as Durian Cake in foreign markets but is actually closer kin to sticky jam. Preserved, overripe durian serves as the dish’s base. Making Tu Rean Guan is simple, and demands the use of only sugar and salt, which are employed to season durian flesh in a stir-fry pan. Because of the heat and constant stirring demanded by its perparation, Tu Rean Guan creates an intense aroma and taste. The price of Tu Rean Guan ranges from THB350 to THB500 per kilogram. One tiny reminder to Tu Rean Guan samplers is that it provides you with an excess of energy, which can run as high as 345 kilocalories per 100 grams.

Five Don’ts of Durian

Don’t buy heart-shaped durian

Common belief stipulates that the fruit of heart-shaped durian does not reach its fellows’ standards of ripeness.

Don’t buy too big of a fruit

Large-sized durians have naturally thick shells. Buying one can mean that you don’t get your money’s worth in terms of flesh-to-seed ratio.

Don’t bring durian to hotels and public buildings.

The strictness of this rule varies. Some hotels and malls will kick you out if they smell durian from your bag; others will not. To circumvent the risk of public embarrassment, please follow this regulation.

Don’t eat too much durian if you have an underlying disease.

Durian contains high amounts of fat, sugar, minerals and amino acids that can spur the symptoms of a preexisting disease. High blood pressure, diabetes or even gout patients are suggested to consume limited amounts of durian per day. They should avoid all durian menus as well.

Don’t eat durian with alcohol.

Though sometimes the subject of urban legends, this admonition is actually quite serious. Durian raises your body temperature. There are reports of people who have died from consuming durian and alcohol together. You are encouraged to eat durian with mangosteen instead, so as to reduce your body’s heat.

Photos/Infographic: Kajonsak Intarapong

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CITY: BANGKOKCATEGORY: FOOD & DRINK

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