There is a science to the way durian sellers categorise the king of fruits: ‘big’, ‘small’, ‘round’ and ‘oval’, ‘sharp and thorny’ and ‘blunt’ are all valid descriptions. This method may seem superficial, but don’t get prickly — a durian's characteristics do affect the price of the fruit.
Even more crucial to the cost of durian are its flavours and scents. They can range from a comparatively mild waft, to a full-on, almost intolerable pungency that promises nothing but the most bitter taste.
To nail the right durian, it takes skill and practice. We’ve put together a checklist to help you get started:
1. Bring gloves
You have to pick up the durian yourself to know if it’s good. We prodded several durian stall owners to reveal their methods of identifying good durians, but most were unwilling to disclose their trade secrets. The generic information we managed to scrape out boiled down to this: pick durians that are lighter than what they look in weight, and pay attention to pungency levels for desired sweetness. What we heard the most was: ‘As long as you are buying a durian from us, we guarantee that it will be a good one.’ We’ll believe it when we taste it, uncle. That said, there are consistently good durian mongers. If you've been going back to the same uncle for years, and been getting consistently good durians from him, do share the info.
2. Thorny and odd-shaped are good
Seventy four year-old Diana Ho, who got turned on to the fruit 50 years ago, swears by a technique that never fails: ‘The thorny, odd-shaped durians are the most bitter and flavourful,’ the matriarch said in Cantonese.
3. Tap for slightly hollow sound
‘Tap the side of the fruit and listen carefully to see if the sound if hollow or dense. Make sure it is only slightly hollow,’ Ho advises. According to her, a dull sound is a telling sign that the durian is full of water — this is bad. Loud and loose-sounding knocks are bad too because it either means the seeds are large or the fruit is unripe. If you shake the fruit and it sounds like a soggy maraca (rumba shakers, a native percussion instrument of Latin America), you’ve got a winner.
4. Consume on-site
Ah Di, a helper at a fruit shop in Geylang, advises customers to consume their fleshy fruit on the premises — so you can ask for a new durian if the one you bought is less than satisfactory.
5. Avoid buying pre-packed durians
The quality of packed durian is inconsistent at best, and a waste of money at worst. It's always better to eat freshly shucked durians.
6. Buy after mid-June
Prices drop significantly by mid-June. That is when the incoming supply of durians surges.
7. Neighbourhood is better
Durians are generally higher-priced in Geylang (though not all are out to get you). Outside that neighbourhood, there are a good number of places you can get your fix at a reasonable price. Keep your eyes peeled for pop-up fruit stalls, durians sold from the back of vans, or simply visit your local fruitmonger — they’ll have some in stock too.
|For an exhaustive list of where to buy durians in Singapore, go to Where to buy durians in Singapore|
Formerly food & drink editor at Time Out Singapore magazine, Celine Asril's other previous incarnations include food blogger, cook, and food photographer's assistant. The avid WWOOFer and Twitter-jointed writer has been published on CNNgo, Forbes Travel and in Asian Gourmet and Smile magazine. She is now adding edible codes to inSing.com. Follow her work twitter feed at @HungryGoWhere.