The Musang King durians (aka durian kunyit in Malay, Cat Mountain King in Mandarin and Mao Shan Won in Cantonese) hit the news in early July 2010 when Macau’s Casino King Stanley Ho sent his jet to Singapore to buy this cultivar of Malaysian durians. Durian kunyit is believed to have originated from Gua Musang in the Malaysian state of Kelantan. Its yellowish flesh resembles kunyit ( Malay word for turmeric).
Apparently the tycoon is so enamoured by the taste of the durians that he sent his staff to Singapore with instructions to buy 98 Mao Shan Won durians. Why 98? Well, 98 in Mandarin and Cantonese sounds like “prosper for a long time”.
Due to low supply of the fruit resulting from adverse weather, Stanley Ho’s staff was only able to buy 88 Mao Shan Won durians. The 88 durians cost Stanley about RM4,800 but the cost of sending the jet to Singapore would cost many times that. I am sure there were more than 88 durians (but less than 98) at the 818 Durian Stall at Telok Kurau Road in Singapore but the staff purchased only 88 as 88 sounds like “prosper prosper” in Mandarin and Cantonese. 8 has always been a favourite number among the Chinese. And 88 signifies luck. Did you notice that the durian stall has the name “818”? You can see some commercial uses of the number 88 below.
And Stanley Ho gave 10 of the durians to his friend Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing. Now you know why this two tycoons are so successful….eat more durians!
For those unfamiliar with durians, the durian is commonly known as the “King of the Fruits”, a label that can be attributed to its formidable thorn-covered husk and overpowering odour. The edible flesh emits a very distinctive odour, strong and penetrating even when the husk is intact. Some people regard the durian as fragrant; others find the aroma overpowering and offensive. The smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust. The odour has led to the fruit’s banishment from hotels, air flights, subways and other public transportation in Southeast Asia.
Chef Andrew Zimmern compared durian taste to “completely rotten, mushy onions.” British novelist Anthony Burgess wrote that eating durian is “like eating sweet raspberry blancmange in the lavatory.” Anthony Bourdain, a lover of durian, had this to say about durians: “Its taste can only be described as…indescribable, something you will either love or despise. …Your breath will smell as if you’d been French-kissing your dead grandmother.”
Southeast Asian folk beliefs, as well as traditional Chinese medicine, consider durian to be “heaty” . The traditional method to counteract this is to drink water from the empty husk of the fruit. An alternative method is to eat mangosteen after eating durians as mangosteens ( also known as the Queen of Fruits) is considered to have cooling properties. But from personal experience, the best way to counter this is to drink a cup of salt water after taking durians. Pregnant women or people with high blood pressure are traditionally advised not to consume durian.
Another common local belief is that the durian is harmful when eaten with coffee or alcoholic beverages. The latter belief can be traced back at least to the 18th century when Rumphius stated that one should not drink alcohol after eating durians as it will cause indigestion and bad breath. In 1929, J. D. Gimlette wrote in his Malay Poisons and Charm Cures that the durian fruit must not be eaten with brandy. There are people who believe that durian and alcohol consumed together can be fatal. I would not want to be the one to verify whether that is true or not, haha!
Durian flowers fried with sambal belacan or curry powder makes a very appetising dish. Some tamu (market) traders occasionally sell the flowers so if you should try it out. Honestly, it is nice!
The Javanese believe durian to have aphrodisiac qualities. A saying in Indonesian, durian jatuh sarung naik, meaning “the durians fall and the sarongs come up”, is attributed to this belief. Someone should conduct a research into whether more babies are conceived during durian season. Hey, you can do a thesis on that for your PhD. I mean the real PhD and not Permanent Head Damage, ok?