May is when Thailand begins to be flooded with durians. Durians pop up for sale just about everywhere - in markets, street corners, pick-up trucks, laundry mats, and shoe stores. Cities across Thailand celebrate the durian harvest with festivals, most of them ostentatiously called "World Durian Festival." With all the durian goings-on durian was unsurprisingly in the headlines a lot in May. What's more of a surprise are the creative and a little bit odd durian culinary creations popping up in the news this month.
Durian was in the news a lot, but most of the headlines were boring. Musang King is getting more popular in Borneo, some lady in Davao argues that there are other things to do there besides eat durian (not really), and there were four durian festivals in Thailand in May: in Rayong, Trat, Pattaya, and Phuket (two of them were "World Durian Festivals").
The most fascinating bit of news was actually from China, where durian is the new fad and durian obsessives are coming up with all sorts of strange new ways to consume the fruit, like Durian Pizza.
Durian isn't the first weird Asian spin on the American/Italian dish. Toppings like shrimp, abalone, crab roe, sweet potatoes, and mochi (rice flour balls) have also made appearances. But the pizza, which has a layer of durian puree spread under the cheese, still makes the grade as pretty darn funky.
|Durian Pizza. Picture from Inventorspot|
It must be really good, because the durian pizza is a total hit among Shanghai's middle class. Blue & Brown, the cafe in downtown Shanghai that introduced durian pizza, has been selling more than 70 durian pizzas everyday. Read more at Inventorspot.
Not to be outdone in culinary creativity, DiVine Restaurant in Phuket offered their second durian buffet, featuring appetizers, soups, salads, and entrees all using durian. They offered a 10% discount to any customers who mentioned "Year of the Durian" at the door. How cool is that?
I wasn't able to make it, but you can see some pictures they shared with me here, or you can read a review by the folks at the Phuket Gazette. Apparently durian gnocchi is really freaking good, and the reviewers rave about durian and tuna tartar.
|Durian soup by DiVine Restaurant. Photo published with permission.|
As a last piece of really fascinating durian news, an orchard in Balik Pulau was busted by the authorities for producing "drugs and other chemicals" in addition to durian. The story ran under the headline, "Durian Orchard Turned Into A Drug Lab." Officers seized 1.2 million RM (about 390,000 USD) of materials, although what kinds are unknown. Read more at The Star.
At the same time that durian is knocking elbows with the more hard core drugs, Penang's famous five star hotel, the Shangri-La, is offering an afternoon durian degustation to guests right on hotel premises. The Shangri-La is just one more high end establishment reversing the widely held industry ban on the fruit. Could it be a larger trend?
We hope so.
Read more about durian at the Shangri La at the News Straits Times.