Sunday, July 12, 2015

Our Family's Love Affair with Durian...

Oh how we love thee... All of us, loves all of you, all your curves and all your edges, all your perfect imperfections--  Yes, durian is such a star in our household, it should have its own love song! I've had durian growing up at home with my parents, but it wasn't until I had my own family that I've really come to adore this nature's magical treasure. In fact, all my kids were exposed to it as babies, soon after they were introduced solids; for each one we braced our eagerness to see their reactions upon their first taste, and time again it was met with want. And now, when it comes to eating durian, we all lose ourselves to giddiness and anticipation to overwhelming joy when the prickly fruit splits open revealing its golden plump flesh. One that involves cheerleading chants, in-air fist-pumping and swooning ooh-la-las! You can eat it at room temperature or slightly frozen for an icy bite! We love them both ways, although chilled it is less aromatic-- a subtler way to entice beginners to give it a taste.

The durian is Southeast Asia's most highly prized fruit-- the King, and the most controversial because of its overpowering odour. It is the only fruit banned from airline cabins, hotels and some public transport. Native to Southeast Asia, the fruit is roughly the shape and size of a spiky football. Inside the tough skin are about five segments enclosing two or three portions of soft cream to yellow-coloured flesh lobes, each wrapped around a single large beige seed. Both the flesh and seed (after boiling) can be consumed. Those who love it, are lifelong aficionados... those who don't, loathe it with a ten-foot pole. No food out there have I heard such extreme polarizing reactions-- some merely can't get pass the smell let alone attempt to eat it. I've heard people describe the odour as sweet floral fragrance (that's my category) and luscious fine wine and cheese to the complete opposite such as sewage socks, horse manure, rotten onions etc.,

To my family, it is sweet fragrant, its texture, soft and creamy with floral and pineapple undertones, and tastes like no other! We relish in these durian moments, because they bring us together, transports us to heaven and lets us stay in heavenly bliss with each other for a while...

Buying from a durian lady at her bicycle stand in Saigon City with my father-in-law in 2004.

Loved the outdoor Vietnamese fruit markets-- the most astounding fresh exotic fruits abound.

Here are some varieties of the durian tree- there are reported about 30 species of only 9 are edible. The durian contains four to six locales, with one to four seeds each and tastes sweet or bitter or wine-like depending on the type and ripeness.

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Whole durian is conveniently sold frozen year-round in Toronto, and its the most economical option (sometimes you can find fresh, but they are a few times more expensive and frozen is just as good). I've only seen two types of durian here, and the one I like is plump on top and tapered on the bottom. Since they are frozen you can only rely on its visual-- one that is thin-skinned bearing large ripe and numerous fruit is the goal but it depends on the batch, and it can be a crap shoot. As much as I can control, when looking to purchase a frozen durian, here are things I look for:

1) large plump fruit, with a plump upper body and tapered rounded bottom;
2) number of pronounced segments where the fruit are encased- the more the better;
3) even beige tone throughout, with minimal broken/smashed spikes;
4) no visible cracks, damp or mold spots, trapped insects (blech-- I know)

I usually purchase frozen whole durian of either the Tiger or Fish brands.

It can take half a day or more to thaw the frozen durian enough to slice into it and scoop out the fruit. You can thaw in the fridge or in room temperature. The fruit starts to emit its fragrant aroma when the thawing is well underway. Usually we carefully press between the spikes to see if it is ready to cut. If not frozen to the touch and the skin yields slightly, this is usually the queue to round up the kids to the kitchen.

When cutting durian, you need ample space. The floor is our gathering ground for the slicing ritual, and we lay a few newspaper around and have a plastic bag handy. Contrary to what most do, we don't use a sharp knife or cleaver but rather a butter knife and a large metal tablespoon to get the job done. Locate one of the humps, look for a thin line often visible down the segment and wedge the knife in it to splice. Once you get a crack big enough, pry open with both hands.

Whoa!! Gorgeous, big and creamy! This one contained two fruit lobes.

Spoon them out onto a plate. Or start devouring right away

This segment had one giant lobe!

Repeat until all segments are dugged into. We love filling the plate up with these creamy golden nuggets!

Growing up with durian...
Sebastien at 2 years old. Ask him his favourite fruit-- and he'll tell you right away "durian"!

Matias at ten months making an adorable durian messy-face!

That's two hefty glorious lobes! 

Pure excitement and love!

My husband tells me when he was growing up as a child in Vietnam, his aunt would take emptied durian skins, tie them on their ends and hang them up on her bed posts. This was a way to keep her room smelling fragrant.... suit yourself!

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According to my mom, Chinese belief says that "eating a durian is liken to eating ten chickens", demonstrating its huge health benefits. They're probably right-- I know when I down a few, I feel ready to conquer the night, and since its usually after dinner time, that means sleep... zzzz! Thanks durian for giving me sweet dreams!

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