Durian and Cholesterol

Lindsay and I meet a lot of people who like durian but say they can't eat it anymore. They ate durian in their youth, but no longer do because of fears that the fruit is high in cholesterol. Skeptical, I decided to look into it and lay to rest this rumor for all those durian lovers who are cutting out the king of fruits in pursuit of a healthy heart. Turns out the truth of durian's relationship to cholesterol is more complicated than I anticipated, but the prognosis is still optimistic.

Durian Menu Offered in Davao City

For the month of August durian is on the menu at the SM City Mall Food Court in Davao. The eight restaurants were asked to use durian in one entree as part of the city-wide celebration of Kadayawan. "We didn't do any desserts because we wanted to highlight the more savory dishes," said Vincent Rebosura, the Food Court manager whose idea it was to create the durian menu.

Rob and I were very excited to finally find a savory durian menu, instead of just the usual sweets and pastries. Even at the durian cooking contest we attended as part of the Tagum City Durian Festival, the chefs only presented a durian dessert. Vincent said he got the idea from visiting a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and from googling recipes online. When I gave him our contact information, he said that our website was one of the first durian recipe sites he found! Very cool.

Kadayawan Durian Floats - Davao City


Every year in August, the 10 tribes of Davao City come together for a week of dancing, singing, and ridiculous costumes in a celebration of the harvest. The festival is called Kadayawan. I'd heard that our beloved durian plays a prominent roll in the parade floats, so Rob and I were in attendance at 7 AM Sunday morning when the parade started on Rizal Street.

The parade was dominated by marching child bands - large groups of elementary school students playing drums and oddly, glockenspiels. I remembered my mom telling me she played the glockenspiel in high school, but didn't know that anyone played it anymore. Now we were surrounded by a waist-high ocean of metal xylophones.

Russian Fruitarians and an Island Vacation

With our 3rd wedding anniversary approaching, Rob and I were considering a trip out to Talikud Island. The last time we visited the Philippines we spent three days on Dayong Beach, the most picture-perfect white sand beach I have ever seen. But then our friend told us about Syroedny Resort, a retreat center on Samal Island run by Russian Fruitarians. We eat a lot of fruit ourselves, so we headed out to Samal Island to find some beach time and celebrate our anniversary.

Valentina, the lady who runs Syroedny Resort, was away when we arrived. We were welcomed instead by Michael, Andrew, and Pasha. Pasha took us on the short walk to the beach, which was just across the water from a large shipping and factory warehouse, as well as a slum. I felt iffy about swimming there.

Tagum City Durian Festival

I have to give it to Tagum City, they know how to put on a wicked durian festival. We've been to several durian festivals now, including Chanthaburi's World Durian Festival in Thailand and the Penang Times Square Durian Festival in Malaysia. Both were well organized and fun events, but for me, Tagum City wins Best Durian Festival Award, at least so far. The festival started August 17th and will run for a full month.

Recipe: Durian Halo Halo

Halo-halo is a Filipino iced dessert that may seem like an odd hodgepodge of random foods to western palates. A basic halo-halo is shaved ice and evaporated milk with any of the following toppings: garbanzo beans, kidney beans, gummy candy, fruits, sweet potato, and coconut. It's a bit like the Malaysian iced cendol, but without the green noodles.

Just like with ice cream, there are both roving halo-halo vendors and halo-halo shops. At a typical halo-halo shop, you are given a list of toppings and check the ones you want. The great thing about halo-halo, is it's flexibility in ingredients allows you to choose what you want, making it easily adaptable for vegan, raw food, or any other diets.

Vietnam Durian Varieties

Vietnam has between 20 and 30 native varieties, most of them unnamed. There's some debate whether durian first arrived from Thailand, Malaysia, or even the Philippines but there seems to be a mix of large-spiked Thai varieties and small-spiked Malaysian. Most varieties are very mild and taste more like vanilla than durian, although I thought the wild highlands durian were some of the best durians I have ever tasted, comparable to those I enjoyed in Penang.

Here are a few of the more popular durian varieties in Vietnam.

Dak Mil Durian Village

Dak Mil is a very small town in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. It's only 180 miles from Ho Chi Minh, but the trip takes about 8 hours due to the poor condition of the road. We definitely weren't sure what we were getting in to when we climbed on the overnight bus.

I found Dak Mil through this news article about durian quality assessment jobs. Apparently more people are needed to test the quality of durians shipped to Hanoi and Nha Trang from the growing number of durian plantations in the area. I didn't have any other leads on durian areas in the highlands, so choosing Dam Mil was easy.

Sau Rieng Chien Gion (Crispy Fried Durian)

Walking around Vietnam, I would sometimes see a sign for Sau Rieng Chien Gion. I knew it had something to do with durian, because I recognized the Sau Rieng part. But I had no idea what the other part meant, and no way to ask. I eventually just looked it up on google.

It's funny, because when I asked our friend Peter in Dak Mil if Vietnamese people ever cooked durian, he said no. I asked a few other English speaking people too, just to make sure, and all of them said no too. Yet here it is, durian cooked to the ultimate level: deep fried.

Dona Techno Vietnam Durian Factory

While scrolling through google searches on Vietnamese durian, I was surprised to find several news articles about Dona Techno, a durian factory in Long Khanh, Dong Nai province, that has made shipments of frozen Vietnamese durian to the USA. This was way back in December, before Rob and I had even set food in SE Asia.

Before we arrived in Vietnam, I contacted the owner, Mr. Nguyen Phu Cuong, and asked if he would be willing to meet with Rob and me to talk about his factory. He sent me a very gracious email inviting Rob and me to the factory and on a tour of their durian orchards.

Recipes: Durian Jello (Rau Cau Sau Rieng)


I first came across Rau Cau in Dak Mil, a small town in Vietnam's Central Highlands. We'd been asked out to a cup of coffee with a friendly local after spending the day visiting his durian and coffee plantation. I was really thirsty and hot, so I ordered a coconut instead. When my coconut arrived on a clean white plate, I gratefully sank my straw in and tried to take a sip - of a trampoline-soft round of jello, called Rau Cau in Vietnamese.

Guide to Durian in Vietnam

Rob and I flew into Ho Chi Minh on August 1st. I was expecting to be disappointed, as we were really late for the reported season, in June, and I'd heard that Vietnam only grows Monthong anyway. I couldn't have been more wrong. Vietnam has an estimated 20 unique varieties, undiscovered and unnamed treasures that I hope will survive the insidious encroachment of Monthong and Musang King.

The word for "durian" in Vietnamese is Sau Rieng (pronouced Sow-Ree-Eng). Its literal translation is "one's own sorrows" or "private sadness." The story goes that a long time ago, a Vietnamese solder went to war in Thailand. There he met a beautiful girl and married her. She loved a fruit called "durian." Unfortunately, something happened to her and she died. When the soldier returned to Vietnam, he brought with him her beloved fruit.

Mekong Delta Rice and Durian

The Mekong Delta is a low lying region crisscrossed by wide rivers and muddy streams. This is the region of the famous boat people, a community of nomads who spend much of the year on their brightly painted, flat bottomed fishing boats trolling the river for fish, wild vegetables and jobs.

It seems strange that durian, which generally grows best in the hills and highlands, would find its home among the rice fields and flood plains of the Mekong Delta. Yet according to statistics from the Southern Fruit Research Institute (SOFRI), 92% of the durian produced in Vietnam is grown here. I wanted to see if durian really can grow in such conditions, so Rob and I took a bus to My Tho, the tourist gateway to the Delta.

News of the Durian

Philippines May Export Durian to USA and Europe

That's right, asian grocers in the USA might have more to offer than frozen Thai durians in the years to come. The city government of Davao, Philippines is exploring the possibility of expanding their durian exports to include whole fruits. In recent years, Davao has experienced a surplus of durians. Opening up to the global market would help farmers' profits and protect against durian devaluation. Plus, the country has tonnes of the fresh fruit during the second half of the year when the world's main durian supplier, Thailand, is between seasons.

I hope the Davao's City Agriculturist Office is successful soon. I can't wait to share some tasty Arancillo and Puyat durians with friends and family back in the states.

Read the original article at SunStar.

Sembawang Durian Stall Singapore

With so many durian stalls to choose from, Rob and I asked our Singaporean friend Qinghui to choose where she wanted to meet us. She chose Sembawang Durian stall, the stomping ground of the happiest durian vendor on earth.

On his 60th birthday this year, Mr. Yap made headline news when he gave away over 1,000 kg of durian to celebrate his big day. He was in a particularly good mood the day we visited because it was the last day of the season and he was looking forward to a month of rest. While we exclaimed over his durians, he sat with us and enjoyed a beer.

Geylang Durian

The Geylang Durian district is the most famous of Singapore's durian stalls, although I don't know why. Maybe its because the greatest concentration of durian stalls are located here, giving it the nickname "Durian Street." Or maybe its because its located in the red light district, where everything is a little shady, including the durian deals.

Singapore Durian Guide

Many people have questioned why we would go to Singapore, citing that Singapore is not a durian producing nation. This answer is simple: how could we not go to Singapore? Our Year of Durian would not be complete without experiencing this teeming metropolis of durian fanatics.

Singaporeans have the highest reported consumption of durian in the world. With a population of only 5.8 million people, the small island nation imports more than 22,000 tonnes of durian every year. Durian is plentiful and it's around. Singapore has more durian bakeries and pastry shops than anywhere we've ever been. No matter where you are, I can pretty much guarantee there's some place close by with durian something. And to top that, durian actually does grow in Singapore.

Recipe: Durian Cream Puff

Sophisticated yet funky, the Durian Cream Puff is a wild Asian twist on a prim English dessert. No wonder they're such a hit in Singapore, the high-tech cultural melting pot with a taste for weird architecture and weirder fruit. Apparently, the durian cream puffs are even more popular than eating whole durian, and for the country with the largest per capita durian consumption, that's really saying something.

I've never had any kind of cream puff, and now that I'm a gluten-free vegan. I probably never will. Is this a sad thing?

Goodbye Malaysia, Good Morning Vietnam

I began feeling nervous as soon as we touched down in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Rob and I have been in Malaysia since the beginning of June. I was beginning to feel very comfortable there, where many people speak English and the language, Bahasa, is more accessible to my western ears than the more tonal Thai or Vietnamese. Every where we went in Malaysia, people were so kind to us. I loved the majestic country side, the rolling hills of steaming jungle. Malaysia has won a very special place in my heart, and I will miss it.

Vietnam is a whole new ballgame. For one, on arriving here I knew absolutely nothing about Vietnam except that there had been some horrible war with my country (the good old USA)  that had traumatized most 'Nam veterans into being lunatics or alcoholics.  Vietnam was a complete mystery, a place I'd heard about my entire life without actually learning anything about it. I've never seen even seen a Hollywood rendition of the war like Good Morning Vietnam or Apocalypse Now. I really had no idea what to expect.

717 Trading and Durian Mpire | Singapore

Rob and I visited 717 Trading in Singapore on a quiet Monday night. Only a few customers trickled in, and most of the "durian boys" had been given the day off after an intense weekend catering to two large events.We met with Shann, the daughter of Mr. Goh Kwee Leng and manager of the office and bakery.

Top Fruits Factory

In May 2011, China settled on an agreement with the Malaysian government allowing frozen Malaysian durian to be exported directly into China for the first time. In the past, the majority of Malaysian exports went to its neighbor, Singapore, as well as durian-loving Hong Kong, where a single fruit can sell for as much as RM 350 ($112). Prices in China promise to be similar, and with the possibility of 1.3 billion future durian lovers, those already in the durian business are scrambling to build processing plants and factories that meet China's strict food safety requirements. 

Top Fruits Factory has the honor of being one of only two factories that currently meet requirements for certification by AQSIQ (China's Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection, and Quarantine). The other is a government owned factory in Batu Kurau, Perak. Co-owned by three brothers, Top Fruit shipped its first container of frozen durian to China this summer. Rob and I were lucky enough to meet up with one of the brothers, Mr. Tan Sue Seng, who gave us a tour of his factory and durian orchard.

News of the Durian

Durian Trees Find a Home

In May, Rob and I visited Dr. Songpol Somsri at the Horticultural Research Center in Chanthaburi. The day we were there, the government bussed in farmers from the Nonthaburi province for a weekend seminar on durian grafting. The province had recently suffered from massive flooding, which killed nearly all of the durian trees.