THE durian season is back. I was back in my wife's hometown in Kulim, Kedah, the other day and the urge to savour durian kampung was irresistible.
The deep or pale yellow flesh when the thorny fruit is cracked open is always inviting. Hence, I went around looking for cheap but good durians.
In the north by now, durians are cheaper, including the famous durians in Balik Pulau, Penang.
In Junjong near Kulim and Machang Bubok, as well as Sungai Lembu near Bukit Mertajam, where durian trees are planted, durian stalls can be seen at every nook and corner of the road, where a person can devour the fruits until he feels drowsy.
The durians sold here are as good as the ones in Balik Pulau, Bentong in Pahang or Batu Kurau in Perak. They are also much cheaper than any other place I know, including Chow Kit, where durians are also in abundance.
In this bumper season, durians are sold between RM4 and RM7 a kilogramme compared with the exorbitant prices in Balik Pulau or Bentong.
In Junjong and Machang Bubok, there are many durian orchards that plant Musang King, the premium durian, besides durian kampung, the aged high trees planted on the slopes of the hills over here.
I would be contented with the sweet, silky, creamy and bitter taste of durian kampung.
After buying the RM4 per kg durian kampung from Ah See, a trader near Machang Bubok, he gave me some tips on choosing good durians as I bought more than 20kg of the fruit.
Conversely, I told him there is a glut of durians these days and this was the reason the fruit is cheap. In Batu Kurau, durians are sold in rattan baskets for RM10 per basket and not in by the kilogrammes.
Choosing bad durians can be a killjoy as opening each husk just confirms our poor choice.
Ah See told me the old way of knowing whether it was good was by shaking and listening. But if you do not have a sharp sense of hearing,this does not make any sense.
He told me to hold the fruit close to my ear and shake it. I thought it was funny when he said "hearing" a durian was important as communicating with the "spirit" of the durian is therefore the right demeanour.
If I hear a clear and crisp yet a little squishy sound, the durian is ripe. The flesh is soft and not waterlogged in its pangsa, or ridges, inside. If there's a hollow sound, the fruit is unripe. If the fruit appears green with a hollow sound, it is probably mangkar (unripe) with hardened flesh.
The colour of the thorns is another way of telling the ripeness of a durian. Bright green spikes indicate an unripe durian, while dry brown spikes shows an overripe one. Ah See told me to look green thorns with brown tips.
My late aunt used to smell the fruit when I tagged along to search for fallen durians in the dead of the night. The smell is usually overpowering, especially when the husk breaks open after falling from the tree.
She sniffed along the split lines of the durian in the centre, where the spikes run parallel. If there is no aroma or the smell is faint, the durian is unripe. If the aroma is too strong and overpowering, the durian is overripe.
Next, the shape of the durian. The more imperfect shape of the durian, the better it is. The imperfect-looking shaped durians are usually the ones that are more aromatic and creamier.
Sometimes, we can be dead wrong about the shape of the fruits. Ah See told me a perfectly round durian may look nice and have more chambers in it, but it may taste bland.
There are other ways to choose good durians, from looking at the stalk of the fruit and its thickness and colour. A thicker durian stalk indicates that the durian received a good amount of nutrients and thus, it has a fleshier and better pulp.
Before I trudged home with the durians, Ah See cut the stalk of a durian and told me to insert it in the car's air-conditioning vent so that the "odour" of the durians would not make me faint. It really worked!
The writer, a former NST journalist, is a film scriptwriter whose penchant is finding new food haunts