Sop Duren, or Durian Soup, is taking over eastern Java. In the week I spent there, I saw Sop Duren everywhere, from tiny fruit push carts to large corporate establishments. There are chains of Sop Durian restaurants. It seemed like you could sit down and have a cold bowl of durian soup on almost every street corner.
So what exactly is Sop Durian? That’s a good question.
I spent the week with Iwan, a durian-loving food connoisseur who joined me in taking pictures of every single durian we ate. He also insisted that to understand Sop Duren, we needed to visit not one, but two shops on the same mid-afternoon.
He actually wanted to hit a third as well, but it was closed.
I felt like by the end of two bowls of durian soup, I’d have a pretty good idea of what sop duren actually is.
We started with Sop Duren Lodaya, a new trendy shop that just opened a month ago in Serang.
Sop Duren Lodaya is a chain, with locations in Bandung, Bogor, Yogyakarta, a few others, and an active Twitter with over 12,000 followers.
A signature decoration of their chain is the bobbing green durian lanterns, which swayed above us in a light breeze, mesmerizingly pointy.
I imagined sitting under the glowing green durians at night, with a warm night breeze and a bowl of cold durian, and decided I needed to acquire a set of these durian lanterns for my some-day house (I’m assuming I’ll have a house. Someday.)
It was lunch time, and the place was empty except for four employees in gloves behind what looked like a Subway sandwich line up. One man scooped our bowls full of large chunks of ice. Another glopped a big ice cream scooper of durian flesh on top. And then the third looked at me expectantly. It was toppings time.
I surveyed the line up without some confusion. There were two kinds of beans, and some kind of green bread (pandan flavored maybe?), and balls of green melon. There were oreo cookies, and chocolate sauce, and thin slices of apple and pear.
I surveyed the making of Iwan’s bowl looking for answers. There was a flurry of movement behind the counter, as all three workers got involved.
One tucked a thick fold of the green bread along the glass like a fancy napkin. Another added oreo crumbles and balls of green melon while the third grated a heavy layer of what looked like parmesan cheese.
“Maybe you would like the apple, since it will be familiar to you,” Iwan suggested.
I shook my head. Apple and durian? So I went with just the green balls of melon because that somehow seemed more logical.
But when I requested the coconut milk, it was Iwan’s turn to shake his head, and not because green melon and coconut milk would be a diabolical combination.
“Sop duren doesn’t have coconut milk,” he informed me. Now we were getting somewhere with the definition of Sop Duren.
Like a picky toddler I ate the melon balls before the durian. It was cold from the big chunks of ice, but tasted pretty much like mediocre, mushy durian. I found myself wishing I’d at least tried the beans, to see what this was all about.
“Eh, it’s not traditional anyway,” Iwan said. So we headed onward to our second bowl of Sop Duren for the day at Kedai Sop Duren.
Kedai Sop Duren, Serang
According to Iwan, Kedai Sop Duren may be the origin of the whole Sop Duren phenom.
“This is zero to hero,” Iwan said. “From nothing to something.”
Kedai Sop Duren started as a small outdoor cart and moved to their large indoor location 6 years ago. Now they have two branches, with another location somewhere else.
“I hear in one month they use 4 ton durian flesh,” Iwan said.
The shop was crowded with people on lunch break, school kids sipping from bowls and grown-ups sitting around chatting while their ice melted.
The atmosphere was like a fast food restaurant, and in addition to Sop duren they served french fries, curly fries, milk shakes, burgers, and roti goreng. Just to remind you it’s Indonesia.
We had only stomach for the Sop Duren.
Again, Iwan’s came heavily dusted in shredded cheese. As a vegan, I took mine bare.
This Sop Duren was different. Again there were the big chunks of ice swimming in a large glopping of chilled durian flesh. But there was more ice, and it had started to melt so that as I dipped my spoon into the durian flesh it was smooth and cold and sweet and strongly durian.
It was hot, and maybe I was thirsty, but the sop duren was surprisingly refreshing. Suddenly I understood why people enjoy Sop Duren so much. You can enjoy the taste of durian and get relief from the heat at the same time. It’s also — if you can imagine this — a hydrating durian snack.
I ate out all the durian until all that was left were a few remainder chunks of ice.
Like most things in Indonesia, Sop Duren is what you want it to be. It’s open to interpretation and creativity, but there are certain perameters that Sop Duren must have to be Sop Durian, and not another dessert (like Es Durian, which is obviously different):
- Big chunks of ice (not shaved ice)
- A big glop of chilled durian (not frozen solid, and not blended)
- Some kind of light sugar syrup
- Shredded cheese (unless you’re vegan or lactose intolerant)
You let the ice melt slightly, and then you slurp it all down. Feeling refreshed, you then wish you had some real durian.
Sop Durian in Serang
You can find all three Sop Duren shops and other durian stalls in the area on this map.