There’s a farm just north of Bangkok that keeps making headlines for it’s unique durians. Fifty years ago, when everyone else in the country was chopping down their ancestral varieties to make way for the new commercial ones, Chatri and his father were saving them.
Over fifty of Thailand’s original durian species can now be found at Suan La-Ong-Fah Farm, and those durian lovers seeking respite from the monotony of Monthong can often be found there too. Recently the farm was even featured in the New York Times. So I thought I would take the opportunity to showcase some of Chatri’s special durians in the following photo essay.
The first time we visited Chatri, we had just started our Year of Durian and didn’t know diddly squat about the fruit except that we loved to eat it. We were very lucky to stumble upon Suan La-Ong-Fah so early in our trip. There are few places that have preserved the old durian varieties, most of which originally came from Thonburi. But the orchard is unique for a number of reasons, and Chatri himself is a big part of what makes visiting his small organic farm a special experience.
A classically trained artist, Chatri returned to the durian orchard to take over his father’s work. When he explains the inner working of growing and eating durian, he weaves in metaphors for life lessons, giving a certain gravity to the eating of durian that isn’t just about when it falls. “He’s like a poet,” our translator Natto explained the first time we were there, saying it was very difficult to translate the meaning without losing the profound beauty of his words.
Unfortunately, just before my trip to Chatri’s I’d picked up a nasty stomach bug somewhere in Cambodia (turned out to be giardia), so despite weeks of salivating anticipation I wasn’t really in the mood to sample these special durians.
Because of this, my descriptions of flavor are a little lacking. But the fruits were so beautiful, and opened with such obvious care and love that I couldn’t say no entirely. Here’s a look at some of Thailand’s forgotten durian varieties, from a man who sees them as more than just a food.
Surprisingly, Chatri also grows the notorious Monthong, the variety that now dominates the durian industry and is associated with monocropping, pesticides, and the other evils of the agriculture revolution.
That’s not Monthong’s fault, and the durian doesn’t deserve to be demonized. Once upon a time it was just one of many delicious durian varieties growing along the banks of the Chao Phraya River.
Treated properly and picked at the right time, true Monthong is a really great durian. I’m serious. This one was particularly superb, smooth and rich with surprising hints of chocolate.
Sao Cham (Admired Lady)
This gorgeous durian took my breath away when Chatri opened it. It was the most beautiful durian I’d seen in awhile. In Thailand, people tend to pick the durians when the flesh is still smooth and firm. I love it when a durian is soft it forms folds and wrinkles, casting shadows and creating a visual feast.
Kop Chai Nam (River Chai Frog)