Text and images by Tris Marlis @ Makansutra
Our Makanguru, KF Seetoh, calls him the “hottest (or coolest) thing to durian knowledge for foodies online since Peter Fonda wore Ray Ban shades while riding his Harley.” Yet, this humble man only calls himself a “durian enthusiast.” He is Tommy Lim, the writer behind Prickly Sensations, a blog where he talks about planting durian like Al Gore talks about global warming in awakening, interesting and inspiring ways.
For 30 minutes, his description and story-telling about the different types of durian enticed us more than the aroma of these prickly fruits. What’s best is after all that long talk, that seed of durian tasted like it’s never been before. It is like falling in love with your spouse all over again after 30 years of marriage. It is like we are in a wine appreciation class, except this is with a durian connoisseur. Now Lim organises a durian feast regularly, which he calls the Durian Connections, “it’s all about connecting people of all walks of life through durian,” he says.
“My first encounter with durians precedes my arrival to this world,” describes Tommy in his blog. Both his parents were durian aficionados, his mother was stuffing herself with durian during pregnancy (she believed it is beneficial), and the smell of durian was almost always present in the house and even in the car. It was a smell that calls for excitement, “I can smell durian even from a mile away,” he laughs. It was in the early 2000 when Lim had his first appreciation ‘class’ by a durian seller in Geylang. Ever since then, Lim had never stopped learning about durian and continuously shares his knowledge with people around him – how to plant a durian, how to choose and how to best enjoy. “When I first met my wife, she thought durian is all the same mah! But now she can explain the differences,” he says.
For all the durian lovers out there, there are two reasons why you need to be durian-literate. First, by knowing how to differentiate types of durian, you are also avoiding the chances of being conned and paying sky high prices for lousy variants. But more importantly, when you have the knowledge, durian sellers will tend to reserve the best durian for you. “It’s etiquette. Durian sellers will not want to waste good durians, they only sell it to people who know how to appreciate them,” explains Tommy.
Now a full-time banker, husband, father and a dreamer, Tommy hopes to own his own durian plantation one day. “So that I can cultivate a cultivar that is suited for my friends, according to their durian preferences. Then name each tree after them,” and he continues “For generations that come after to have something they can relate to, they can say proudly that their grandpa and grandma gave their family heirloom, a heritage, something symbolic and meaningful.” Durian trees that used to take a generation to grow, has been enabled by new agriculture technology and can be grown in a decade. If you start planting your durian tree now, you will have a chance to taste your own cultivar. That is if Lim’s dream comes true soon.
“This year’s durian season can easily lasts until October,” says Ah Loon, a durian seller at 227 East Coast Rd. Although durian is available all year long, these few months would be the best time to try out all these different types of durian.
Mao Shan Wang: Sometimes called the “butter durian,” Mao Shan Wang has a creamier, firmer and heavier texture compared to other durians. Its smell is pungent and strong. [Here’s a post on how to identify fake Mao Shan Wang, shared by Tony Johor Kaki in his blog who calls Lim his durian teacher: http://bit.ly/16hDBNT]
Red Prawn: A sought after cultivar from Penang which is hard to find in Singapore. It has an orange reddish flesh and is very aromatic. The closest one to this is probably the D13.
D13: The flesh of this cultivar is slightly reddish. It has a subtler and softer texture, like custard, with a bittersweet aftertaste.
D101: It is often mistaken as D13 for its similar taste and look, but it’s creamier and sweeter. This durian is easy on palate, good for beginners.
XO: Very pale yellow in colour, and comes with a more watery consistency. It has a bitter and almost alcoholic aftertaste.
Golden Phoenix: Popular among women for its smaller seed and creamier texture. This cultivar has greyish outer husk and carries a sweet and bitter aftertaste.
To enjoy: Lim likes to go on a roller-coaster with all these different cultivars. It is recommended to start with a milder durian, like D101, and gradually moves to stronger and more bitter durian. But in between, Lim would add in the XO, the most bitter among all and ends on a high note with Mao Shan Wang. In between, drink a lot of water to clean your palate.
For more on durian, check out Tommy’s blog at http://pricklysensations.blogspot.sg/ or better yet, go to one of his durian connections. Don’t call him a durian expert, he insists, “I am just a guy who is passionate about durian and loves to eat durian,” he says, crediting his wife (Ms Song), food buddies (David, Mark, Jason and Andrew) and his durian expert (Trevor) for all the prickly sensations he has created.