Taking durians on trains is generally not an okay thing to do in Thailand. Even really expensive durians.
But I had a half-ripe $300 durian (that’s USD dollars) and an expiring Thai visa. How would you handle this situation?
Thought so. Me too.
I decided to risk it. If the durian got kicked off the train, I was going with it. I decided I’d
rather walk to Malaysia then let my $300 durian go uneaten.
I wrapped the durian in its banana leaves and inserted it stem-side up inside my backpack, packing my clothes tight around it for cushioning and smell . Then I slid it under the train seat and resolved not to touch it until we arrived in Malaysia 22 nervous hours later.
Of course, there aren’t any NO DURIANS signs in the train or train station. But the train is a sealed off, air conditioned tube and I figured if any of the serious, smartly dressed Mr. Conductors got a whiff they weren’t likely to be pleased.
Within minutes of settling back to watch the landscape slide by, a durian breeze floated by my nose. I felt a moment of dismayed panic. I looked around, wondering frantically how to hide the odor. What other odoriferous items did I have in my bag? Maybe a dousing of tea tree oil would do the trick?
Then my friend said “Sorry. I burped.”
Twenty-five hours later, I unpacked my durian at Bao Sheng’s Durian Farm in Penang and handed it over to Mr. Chang.
Thai Durian at Bao Sheng Durian Farm
Going to Bao Sheng’s Durian Farm is like Jedi training for durian lovers. Mr. Chang has an exacting understanding of the subtle nuances of durian flavor, texture, and aroma. As he stands slicing open durian after durian he talks not just about the fruit, but the tree, and the soil, and the rain and the little animals that live under the grass by the roots. It’s a holistic perspective riddled with wise analogies to life situations.
His aim in life, as far as I can tell, is to help others appreciate durian as much as he does. He inspires me. It’s like if Yoda faked his death, flew a spaceship to Malaysia and settled down as a durian farmer.
So as disappointed as I was not to be able to share the Ganyao with Mark, I felt pretty pleased with myself for hauling the durian all the way from Bangkok to Penang. Who better to judge the quality of Thailand’s premium durian than a Malaysian expert?
“Always pass on what you have learned.”
– Mr. Chang and Yoda
It was beautiful glowing gold in the late afternoon sun. The color was rich and enticing, and it gave a sweet and floral odor, like cloying perfume.
The bees moved in within seconds of opening it, joyfully wallowing in its ambrosial sweetness.
“Just sweet,” Mr. Chang said judgmentally, prodding the durian with his knife. “Maybe little bit flower taste.” He frowned thoughtfully. Then before I could stop him he sliced through the top layer of the durian flesh to expose the long fibers typical of a Thai durian.
Whereas Malaysian durians tend to be ooey-gooey smooth, Thai people like a quality of firmness to their durians, with a layer of creaminess just in the center around the seed.
In terms of Thai tastes, this durian was perfect. It was rich and super sticky, dense like a peanut butter pound cake and very, very sweet.
But in Malaysia, a durian that’s firm to the touch is considered practically inedible. If you get one, it’s totally legitimate to demand a new one from the durian seller.
I’d forgotten that Mr. Chang had never tasted a Thai durian. He had nothing to compare it to, other than his own world class durians.
Laughing, Mr. Chang grabbed a Ganyao (spelled Ganja in Malay) grown on his farm and cracked it open.
Point made. It was gorgeous.
Spread on the table with the Penang durians, my $300 prize seemed a bit lost, poor thing.
How could I ever make a proper comparison?
Luckily, many of my durian fanatic friends had just arrived from Thailand for my birthday bash and were able to help me with the big taste test. One friend had eaten nothing but Thai durian for the past six weeks. If anyone could tell the difference, he could.
So just how good was it? Watch Our Reviews
Watch our collective reviews of the Most Expensive Durian in the World on youtube.
Was it any better than a normal Ganyao?
People always say you pay for what you get, but I’ve always been skeptical.
It’s an issue that comes up a lot in the world of wine snobbery. Is a $100 bottle of wine really that better than a $15?
Wine expert Steve Heimoff says that the difference is mostly in the subtleties – the intensity of flavor, mouth-feel, and absence of flaws (whatever that means for wine). If you watched the video, this will sound familiar. People who tasted my $300 Ganyao reported that it was thicker, creamier, with a stronger peanut butter flavor than other Ganyaos they’d had.
According to researchers at Caltech, just knowing the Nonthaburi durian was expensive could have increased the degree of pleasure my friends experienced while eating it, as if zero’s following dollar signs hold extra shots of dopamine.
In the study, they gave each study participant five glasses of wine ranging in price between $5-90 per bottle and recorded their brain activity using fMRI. This way the researchers could actually see the part of the brain that experiences pleasure, the medial orbitofrontal cortex, lighting up.
How cool would it be to scan people’s brains while they ate durian? Can someone do this? Please?
Where the study got tricky is that the researchers mixed up the labels. That means that sometimes the $90 bottle of wine was labeled as $10, and vice versa.
And regardless of which wine they were really tasting, people reported that they liked the one labeled as more expensive better. They not only reported that it tasted better, they experienced more pleasure in their brains.
So then, how do you separate taste from pleasure? Does an amazing flavor give us pleasure? Or does our pleasure at other details of the experience make something taste amazing?
Do I regret spending $300 on a durian?
Now I know what a really, really expensive durian tastes like. Did it taste better than than the $15 bucks a fruit Ganyao you can buy at any fruit market in Thailand?
If the wine studies are to be believed, probably not.
But regardless of scientific and philosophical quandaries, I really enjoyed my Nonthaburi Ganyao.
While it didn’t quite go the way I had hoped (comparing Thai durian to Malaysian is just not fair), it was a thrilling experience. From meeting Mark and going to the farm, rubbing elbows with Thailand’s upper class and smuggling a durian on the train, it was an adventure.
A really sticky sweet one.
Liked this post? Check out my friend Mark’s video about our trip to Nonthaburi to get the durian.
Want to taste this durian for yourself? Come with me on a durian tour of Thailand.