“To eat durian is a new sensation worth a voyage to the East to experience.”
Alfred Russell Wallace, The Malay Archipelago.
Despite being written almost 150 years ago, that is one of the nicer quotations describing the King of Fruits. More modern critics are likely to use descriptions that vary from being simply rude to downright obscene. All are unprintable in a volume such as this. Personally, the author being a keen supporter of the Durian prefers to describe its special taste and aroma as “Tastes like Heaven, smells like Hell”. Nonetheless, no matter which side of the Durian fence you sit, lover or hater, the King of Fruits, either fresh or in any one of its many guises, is still popular with many citizens in South East Asia, young and old.
Apart from the obvious tasty snack of the raw, soft, yellow flesh, found inside that prickly exterior one longstanding Durian treat is the Durian cake or Dodol (in local parlance), not cake in the form that Caucasians would expect, but more a rubbery texture more akin to a toffee than a cake.
Anna Down, locally born but now a UK resident, has very pleasant memories of her childhood in Ipoh during that special time of the year when Durians were in plentiful supply – and cheap!
She recalls that the best place to buy Durians in the season was at the roadside around the old children’s playground at Brewster Road. Here there were always plenty of hawkers competing for trade and for bulk buys, prices could be haggled down to a level which made the subsequent effort well worth while. Such buying sprees were never made alone as the best prices could be obtained if a group was to buy together with the best bargainer appointed to lead the expedition. In Anna’s case her mum always went with a group of friends and after selecting the best bargains and employing her best and most persuasive haggling technique, she would hail one or two trishaws or rickshaws where the ripe and prickly fruit would be loaded aboard and the unfortunate rickshaw puller/trishaw man would be directed to her home address where the next stage of the process was to begin. For these Durians were destined to become home-made Durian cake.
Once unloaded and transferred to the back yard, the Durians were prised open with difficulty and the assistance of a butcher’s cleaver. The aromatic (some would say ‘smelly’) yellow flesh was separated from its seeds and scraped into a big multi-coloured bowl from China. Once all the Durians had been stripped of their delicious contents, the shells and seeds were discarded and the precious flesh transferred into a big copper container. Sugar was added and the mixture was stirred constantly with a large wooden paddle over a low heat until the correct consistency was reached. By this stage the mixture had become dark brown. To test the consistence Anna would take a spoonful of the mixture taste if if she could get away with it and see if it another spoonful could successfully be rolled into a shape like a Swiss roll. Once that was achieved, the entire contents of the copper container were removed from the heat and the mixture formed into as many rolls as could be made. Once cooled the rolls were then wrapped and distributed to the families involved and the copper container could be scraped clean by Ann as a reward for her help..
Anna ends this tale by reminding us that commercial Durian cake is readily available in Malaysia today, but bears little resemblance to that home-made treat from years gone by.
Do you have any memories of days gone by that you would like to share with us please?