The durian is a popular dessert item, whether baked into cakes, stirred into ice cream, stuffed into pastries, or simply eaten with sticky rice. This year DiVine Restaurant at the Thanyapura Sports and Leisure Club in Phuket, Thailand, decided to offer something new.
Rob and I missed their week long “Durian Festival” by only a few days. We hadn’t planned on going to Phuket at all, as we were bee-lining to Penang, but Rob wanted to go to a dentist while we were in Thailand and our money was worth more. After some internet research, he discovered “Dental Tourism.” Apparently, people travel specifically to Thailand to get some work done on their teeth in addition to taking the time to get cheap massages and hang out on the beach.
Since we were going to spend a few days in Phuket, I of course started snooping around for a durian story. I was looking for durian ban. We found the local wet market (fresh meats, veg, and fruits), where I discovered three stalls with durian. All were Monthong from the Chumphon or Suratthani regions. One lady had durians so large, they topped out her scale! But no one had any durian ban.
While surfing the net, I found DiVine Restauarant’s “Durian Festival, a week long event of fine dining with durian. The restaurant is most famous for offering organic produce directly from its affiliated farm. For the first time the restaurant offered over 30
different dishes all containing durian. They believe they are the first
restaurant to cook with durian in Thailand. Other than the Massaman
Curry at Chanthon Potchana Restaurant in Chanthaburi, which used unripe durian in place of potatoes, this is the first time we’ve come across anyone cooking durian into savory dishes.
|At DiVine with restaurant manager and Souz Chef|
I emailed DiVine to see if they were still cooking with durian and might be able to whip up something vegan for us (We generally eat raw food, but have decided to make an exception should we ever find vegan durian fare). They were no longer offering durian, but we were able to sit down with restaurant manager Supoj Thevaboot and the Sou Chef, Jirawat Wajasat to talk about the event.
Cooking with durian is a new phenomenon in the gourmet world.Without a cookbook or other source of inspiration, the creative chef prepared for over 2 weeks before the festival, testing recipes and deciding which to present. The final selection included 8 durian salads, durian spring rolls, a durian cream soup, cheese and durian stuffed chicken, durian chicken curry, and tuna tartar with durian salsa.
I asked if they harvested the durian from the restaurant farm, but they said no, they don’t grow durian. The restaurant purchased sixty kilos of durian for the week long event. Chanee was used for more
savory dishes, like the creamy soup, while Monthong gave the cheese
stuffed chicken a surprising sweetness. The staff took extreme measures to ensure that the fruit’s maliflous odor did not penetrate the restaurant. The durians were stored outside the restaurant, and the dishes were cooked in a separate kitchen in another part of the complex. The chef explained that cooked durian no longer has an odor detectable to the nose. It’s amazing scent becomes apparent only at contact with the taste buds. For dessert, fresh durian was also served on tables outside the restaurant. Guests were requested to wash their hands before returning indoors.
Unfortunately, its unlikely that DiVine will repeat the durian experiment
next year. The restaurant serves mostly western clientele, who are often squeamish about the powerfully pungent and alien-looking fruit. Negative media presentations, such as the durian episode of Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizaare Foods,” isn’t helping the fruit’s reputation. Skip to around 3 minutes into this clip to see the durians.
This is the guy who has eaten sheep’s testicles, iguana eggs, bat brains, pig stomach, cow urine, and even a whole baby piglet. Seconds before he eats durian, he shrugs his shoulders at Horseshoe Crab eggs held together by their own milky innards. And the guy reacts like that to a fruit? I agree with the orchardist at the end of this clip. “They are only fruit. They are only fruit.You don’t have to be worry.”
restaurant manager at DiVine expressed frustration with the 80% of their western clients
who refused to even look at the durian offerings, turning and leaving at simply
hearing the name of the fruit. Were they influenced by Zimmern’s display of disgust? I don’t know. As few as 10 people a day were willing to taste the revolutionary dishes.
In my opinion, this is a pity. Rob and I think that the durian has a lot of potential for culinary uses, especially for vegans. Its amazing, cream-like consistency and funky flavor might make a great substitute in cheesy recipes. We’d love to see what people can come up with!
DiVine Restaurant, Thanyapura Sports and Leisure Club
120/1 Moo 7 Thepkasattri Rd., Thalang, Phuket
6:30 am-9:00pm (Monday-Friday)
6:30 am-6:00pm (Saturday-Sunday)
For more information about DiVine Restaurant or their Durian Festival, email [email protected] or call Tel: +66 (0) 76 336 000 ext 5070
Got a good durian recipe? Send it in to [email protected]