Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Meeting the King

Nowadays, eating durians doesn’t come close to what I remember it used to be…

Back then, durians were a true-blue happening -- akin to opening presents on Christmas morning, or chasing down a hysterical chicken in your own backyard and slitting its throat for the cook-pot. The whole family was involved, there was hullabaloo, and we would talk about it for days before…and after! When I was a kid, pleasures were simpler.

Back to the durian: unlike the artificial harvests of today, durian in those days was truly seasonal, appearing perhaps twice a year at most. They were really looked forward to.

Also, as types of fruits in the market weren’t so plentiful then, durian was king, and everybody loved it. My family was no exception. Usually, news would have “leaked” days before and the household would be abuzz. Then the day arrived.

Anticipation would build when the pickup truck, hired by one of my aunts, pulled up in front of the house. Off would go, Fourth Auntie and pickup, to the wholesale center. We would all hold our breath at home, and picture Fourth Aunt haggling and carefully counting out her dollars.

After what seemed years, the pickup would trundle in with an enormous bamboo basket filled with 30 or more durians. D20, D27, XO, etc, etc, didn’t exist in those days; the signboard would simply say “Durian…$$/kati…$$/each”. Price, and not so much grade or category, was the deciding factor in those less-affluent days. That was how we used to buy durians. 

So out would come the newspapers, to be spread on the kitchen floor. We gathered around, and one durian after another was taken out of the basket. The strongest member of the clan would pry and rip the husk apart. To a chorus of oohs and aahs everybody jumped in with their fingers.  The good durians would draw loud praise and appreciation, the bad ones, curses. The whole basket-load would be devoured in an hour, often much sooner, with the poor quality fruits put aside for other cooking purposes.

By feast’s end, fingers and hands would be smothered in sweet delicious goo, which was licked off noisily. Then every person picked a section of husk and used it as a “cup” for drinking tap water, as Grandma said it would curb the “heatiness” from eating durian.

With the smell of durian hanging heavy in the air, the fruits and seeds would be counted and noted. The following day the numbers would be used for 4-D, TOTO, or tontine (a form of illegal lottery).

If you lived in a flat, neighbours would enquire about the durians, their price and quality and so on, even though they had never been told about the feast. That’s because the smell would have permeated even the corridors, and your own body would have betrayed you.

Your breath would reek for hours if not days, despite your best efforts to deodorize it; and your pee would even smell of durian for a full day after! Sadly these days, the durian no longer possesses such “potency” in its flesh, and its eating no longer commands ceremony. Sigh…the king ain’t what it used to be.

With the not-so-good durians, there are ways to redeem them, including a number of jams, desserts, and cakes. I once met a Malay lady who had an unusual recipe for durian. I tried it as a sambal dip with crackers and fruits, and it was great, but I leave its use to your imagination! 

Belachan Tempoyak Durian

Belachan                   30g
Oil                               2 tbsp
Red Chilli                  10, chopped coarsely
Chilli Padi                 15, chopped coarsely
Shallots                     6, chopped coarsely
Garlic                         5 cloves, chopped coarsely
Durian                       10 seeds, deseeded
Calamansi                5, juiced
Sugar                         1 tbsp
Salt                             ½ tsp

1.             Fry belachan over low heat until it disintegrates and becomes fragrant.
2.             Add oil, chillies, shallots and garlic. Fry until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
3.             Remove from heat, add durian and mix well.
4.             Add calamansi juice, sugar and salt. Mix thoroughly and let it cool.
5.             Serve as a dip or as a condiment during meals, eg. mixed with rice.

Helpful note:
Adjust the recipe to your preferred thickness/consistency by adding calamansi juice and sugar.