Video of the Hunt:
I really wasn’t sure what kind of durian to expect on that sunny afternoon when our friend David guided us down “Billionaire Lane,” along the wooded area of the Presidio, past large “Beware of Coyote” notices, and down a quiet lane of Edwardian houses to a block suddenly filled with Chinese-character signboards.
We had arrived to San Francisco’s “Other Chinatown” for an afternoon durian hop between the many small family-owned Asian groceries on Clement Street.
I was very curious to find out what kind of durians were being sold here.
So it was with anticipation that we swung around the corner of 5th and Clement and spotted the first mound of yellow netted fruits under the green banner of New Lien Hing.
Where is San Francisco’s “Other Chinatown”?
Clement Street is a commercial strip in a residential neighborhood of Inner Richmond District. It’s kind of near the Golden Gate Bridge – two blocks south of the huge park area known as the Presidio of San Francisco and 5 blocks north of Golden Gate Park.
The total length of Clement Street is about 3 miles – but for your San Francisco Durian Hunt, the only part relevant to you is the 6 blocks between 4th and 10th Avenues. Compared to the rest of San Francisco, this section of Clement Street is flat as a pancake.
For a long time, the area was mostly an empty sand dune known by locals as “The Sand Waste,” with the Financial District and Chinatown to the east and coastal mansions to the west. Then in 1896 gazillionaire Adolph Sutro paid for a trolley line to bring city people to his ocean-view hotel and spa. The trolley line ran along the length of what is now Clement Street.
But Clement Street’s population boom arrived overnight when the Golden Gate Park and Presidio became refugee camps. Over 300,000 people lost their homes during the 7.9 magnitude earthquake of 1906 and the week of uncontrollable fires that followed. Around half fled to Oakland, the rest to The Sand Waste.
SF city planners decided that with 80% of the city destroyed it was an excellent opportunity to make improvements. As rebuilding stretched on over years, and then more years, city leaders also employed various tactics to dissuade Asian home-owners from going back to the original Chinatown. Many people gave up and plunked down along the Clement trolley line.
Wha-la, with just a sprinkling of additional race-specific persuasion laws and a few more waves of post-WWII immigration, San Francisco’s “Second Chinatown” became an excellent place to go durian hunting.
Some people now worry that as the Richmond District gentrifies, Asian-owned mom-n-pop businesses are getting pushed out. So who knows how much longer a Clement Street Durian Hunt will even be possible. Go Go Go!
Our San Francisco Durian Hunt on Clement Street
New Lien Hing
We started our hunt on the corner of 5th and Clement St at New Lien Hing where we spotted the box of bright yellow nets sitting between the tomatoes and bitter melons.
The durians were sitting outside, at ambient temperature, the ice between their thorns slowly dripping into the cardboard.
I checked out the label, which said Ri6 (pronounced “Ree-Sauw”) from Vietnam, Evershing brand. That was exciting, Vietnamese Ri6! But as I turned the durian over, looking for cracks, I felt uncertain this was true to label.
“This looks a lot like Monthong,” I commented. Richard and our friend, who had recently been eating Ri6 in Vietnam, agreed that the appearance was suspiciously Monthong-like.
We headed inside.
Inside we found another box of Ri6 whole durians, this one from Tropical Fruit Lovers, a brand of Daitan Tropical Fruits
I was really curious about this one, because unlike the Evershing Ri6 outside, this brand declared that the durian was from Long Khánh, a city of Đồng Nai Province in southern Vietnam.
I like when labels show me where my food is from.
This Ri6 also looked like Ri6, which made me think it must really be a Ri6. I suggested we pick up our first durian of the Hunt.
But Richard wanted to hold onto our dollars until we’d completed our San Francisco Durian Hunt for the day, so we decided to come back to New Lien Hing after finishing our sweep of the other shops on Clement Street.
AAA Vegi Inc
On the next block over from New Lien Hing, we spotted 2 lonely Monthong durians sitting out under a red umbrella.
But they didn’t have any yellow netting or signs of dripping ice. No… these durians were FRESH! As in, never frozen! Whoa! 😱
I immediately wanted to buy one, but at $13.99 per lb, Richard put the brakes on.
That price would give each durian a price tag of around $60 USD (250 RM per fruit). We should look at these carefully, he advised.
As we turned the durians around, looking at the ancient, wrinkled up stems speckled with white mold, the friendly young store clerk with an American accent invited us to come inside where she had some more fruits in the refrigerator.
These were in better condition, but as we felt their weight, squished their thorns and tapped for hollowness, we realized these were Dead Durians.
Essentially, if durians are picked unripe and then deprived of oxygen (like if shipped overseas in a sealed box), they don’t ripen. This is called hypoxia, and it results in a durian that will be as crunchy as when they were yanked off the tree, but with no ability to get softer. The fruit has Died.
We felt very sad for the shop owner’s loss as we exited the store and moved on.
Richmond New Way Mah
On the other side of the street, we came to the long red banner of New Way Mah. This store is famous, and several of our Instagram followers recommended we come here for a San Francisco Durian Hunt.
Cuz it’s big and has a huge selection!
That was clear just from the collection of 6 types of bananas in the display along the sidewalk. And the piles of fresh dates, enormous longans, Hawaiian papayas, and yellow kiwis that distracted us for a moment from D’trail.
Just inside the door we found Fresh Durian in trays by the cash register. A single tray was nearly $40!
Richard said a firm “No” before I’d had a chance to open my mouth. But this time I agreed with him.
The hilums (spongy area along the side that would attach the fruit to the shell) had turned grey with a tinge of pink, indicating wateriness and a possible bacterial infection.
When fresh, the durian hilum is white. They do oxidize quickly after the fruit matures, so greyish can be fine, but that pinky tinge was a little concerning.
In a box next to the durian trays was around 5 fresh fruits. Richard picked one up and spun it around.
The durians had cracked, and the cracks were fuzzy with black mold.
As much as I wanted to try Air Flown Fresh Durian, I wasn’t tempted anymore.
With disappointment we trotted over to the frozen section to have a look.
I thought these Durians Buns looked so cute! They weren’t vegan, but I considered buying some as a gift. But our friend told us these don’t have enough durian inside and are mostly steam bun bread, so I put them down and moved on to the real durian.
The whole frozen Monthongs durians sat out in front of the freezer in their yellow nets, with a sign calling them “Lions Durians.”
I’ve heard of the brand Lion. I’ve never heard of a Lion variety from anywhere.
The brand was Yi Bao Produce Group, and didn’t actually specify a variety, but it was clearly Monthong.
So the Lion sign must be kind of old.
These Monthong looked okay, but it’s almost always better value for money to buy the packets so went to see what the packet durian looked like.
Here we found more durian from Vietnam! There was both Monthong and Ri6 in 400g trays, so we decided to try both.
With our first Durian purchases in hand (plus some other stuff, this shop is super distracting!) we skipped back down Clement to hunt down our next Durian.
Wing Hing Sea Food Market
The durians were sitting at the entrance, or we likely would not have entered this shop at all. After all, we were not looking for seafood, and to be honest mixing raw seafood with fruit sounds like a bad idea.
But, after seeing those whole Ri6 for $5.99/lb at the start of our hunt, $4.59 didn’t sound like a bad price at all.
Richard checked through them for splitting fruits, and decreed that these were still covered in ice and had only recently left the freezer. He thought they had a good shot toward Deliciousness.
We walked away with a D&T Brand Ri6 for $17.63.
Ying Xing Food Co
This shop was across the street from
Here we found only 1 brand of frozen durian, again sitting out with the plums and nectarines.
It was another brand of Whole Ri6 from Vietnam.
Since we hadn’t tried the Ri6 yet, and we already had 1 in packet form and 1 whole fruit, we decided to skip onwards.
Apple Land Produce
This corner shop at 10th and Clement St is the last produce shop until 25th Street. We stopped here when we spotted the durian on the sign banner wrapping around the exterior of the building, hopeful we’d found one last enclave of Something Interesting.
We briefly scoured this shop, which advertised organic food and was cleaner, more spacious and brighter than the other shops. Sadly, we did not find any durian lurking inside.
A Recap of the Durian Booty
Clutching our partially frozen purchases, we wandered the street looking for a nook sheltered from the glacial wind where we could feast on our booty.
We had 3 brands and 5 durians to taste, sadly none of them fresh air flown.
In total we spent $61.99, not counting the Golden Kiwi, Hapa Bananas and fresh dates that managed to slip into our shopping basket along the way.
feasting taste test begin!
Dakon Inc Thailand Monthong, Seedless
Purchased at New Lien Hing, $13.99
We started with our only Thailand Durian of the afternoon, a tray of Seedless Monthong imported by Dakon International in Oakland. This company has a nice website that lists some of their other durian products, including D24 and Musang King.
There’s no information about which part of Thailand this Monthong was sourced or who they bought it from.
I thought it was interesting that they removed the seed while keeping the natural shape of the durian pod, I guess so that you know you are really buying 400g of edibleness. Bang for your buck, ya?
If we had allowed this packet to fully thaw, it would have been difficult to pick up the pieces. With no seed inside to grab, it was about like eating pudding with your fingers.
Even half-frozen, the texture was very soft. I appreciated that this brand obviously used fully-ripe Monthong, without any crunchy pieces. The flavor was pretty strong.
However, I felt like it was actually bordering on overripe, and left a weird aftertaste that was not my favorite.
Evershing Trading Monthong Seedless Packet from Vietnam
Purchased from New Way Mah Super for $12.99
Keeping on the Monthong train, we decided to open the Vietnamese Monthong Seedless packet next.
This packet had 3 large pieces in it, the same as the previous brand.
But this Monthong was very different.
The color was a darker ivory yellow, and the pieces somehow held their form better, turning less into a pudding than a perfect pillowy pod.
For me this was an excellent Monthong 👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻
D&T Sau Rieng RI6
Purchased from Wing Hing Seafood Market, $4.59/lb for a total of $17.63
Next up, we decided to open our only Whole Durian, a Ri6 from D&T Brand.
Ri6 (pronounced Ree-Sauw, or ‘Durian 6’) is a Vietnamese variety, and one that I have loved. It had been years since I’d had one, maybe since my last trip to east Cambodia (where it grows along the border regions). I was so eager to give it another try in this new setting.
Since the durian was already partially thawed from sitting out on the counter for who knows how many hours, it was easy to stick our thumbs into the soggy skin and peel it open to reveal dry, wrinkly flesh inside.
The contrast in texture between the almost soupy Monthong we’d just eaten and this dry nutty bread of a durian was astounding.
I could peel the flesh open to reveal a small flat seed, just like Musang King. The color was paler and it was a little bit fibrous, almost bordering on rubbery but not unpleasantly so.
It lacked the richer syrupy-mouthfeel of a Musang King, but it was very enjoyable and reminded me of a dry-textured Chanee.
It also had no funky back taste, which I appreciated.
Evershing Trading Brand Ri6 Packet from Vietnam
Purchased at New May Wah Super, $10.39
With everybody grinning after the Ri6 Success, we decided to dive into our next Ri6 of the day: a tray from Evershing Trading.
This one did have seeds inside, flat brown ones like Musang King. The pieces were also slimmer than Monthong, so there was a bit less to eat.
The flesh was a bright golden yellow, with a smooth elongated shape. It really reminded me of Musang King.
Like, really. You could have told me this was Musang King and I would have believed that maybe it came from a young tree and that was why it was just a little less rich than a proper Musang King should be.
Obviously, this was delicious. And at only $10.39 per packet a better deal than the Whole Durian.
D&T Foods Monthong Seedless from Vietnam
Purchased from New Lien Hing for $6.99
For our last D, we kept a brand I’m already familiar with. Or at least, we think we’re familiar with.
The first time I tried it was in Fubonn Asian Shopping Center way back in 2015 (6 years before writing). Weirdly, back then the label said 3 Mien brand, but the packaging was exactly the same. Check my blog post from 2015 to compare.
The second time was from our local grocery store in my hometown in Oregon. Here it cost a heart-stopping $17.99 for what would eventually become compost.
But… time passes. A company with this quality can’t stick around forever without changing? Right? Free market capitalism, natural selection and all that? Third time’s the charm?
This is the kind of god-awful durian that makes Richard pout like a little kid given a clump of frozen green peas on an ice cream cone. It’s just wrong.
The pieces were big, and it was seedless. It wasn’t absolutely flavorless, because while the front taste was like water and the back taste was vaguely oniony.
At just $6.99 per packet, it was almost 1/2 price of any other durian we bought on Clement Street. I can totally see how a noobie wanting to taste durian for the first time would buy this one just because it’s cheaper, and then never taste durian again.
Thank you to this company for making Americans hate durian.
Hunting Durian on Clement Street was epic fun. There were so many things I didn’t expect! Here were some of our biggest surprises:
- Almost all of the durian was from Vietnam. We found only 2 brands of frozen Thai durian
- There was a lot of Air flown fresh Thai durian. We found 2 stores that had it (AAA Veggie and New May Wah Super)
- I was shocked that whole frozen durians were allowed to sit out and thaw for hours
- I was equally shocked that the California Health Department hadn’t cracked down on the copious black fuzz mold on the fresh durians
- Ri6 is delicious!
Our Votes For Best Durian on Clement Street:
We all had different favorites, because taste is subjective! One person loved the overripe, funky durian taste of the Dakon Inc Monthong, while one of us loved the almost chewy texture of the D&T Ri6.
But here’s how our group of 4 Durian Lovers voted:
1 voted Dakon Inc Monthong the best
2 voted Evershing Trading Ri6 the best
1 voted D&T Food Ri6 the best
All 4 of us voted that D&T Foods Vietnamese Monthong will burn in durian hell for offensive fart water flavor.
But such is the durian hunt! The good and the bad… but today, mostly Delicious 😋
Mail Order Durian
If this post made you hungry for durian but you don’t have any sweet durian hunting spots nearby, we’re happy to be able to send you some by mail order!
Check out our Durian Shop to see what’s available now. We can deliver Frozen Durian to all 50 states in the USA, Canada, and Australia.