The Temptations of Durian

A soft piece of durian pancake melts on my tongue, giving me intense gastronomical pleasure. There’s no pungent smell, only the luscious taste of the king of fruits wrapped in the delicate thin pancake.

The spiky fruit has been known and consumed by Indonesians since around the 9th century, as shown on the relief panels on the walls of Borobudur Temple in Central Java. Indonesia is blessed with abundant varieties of durian including Durian Lay, Durian Medan, Durian Petruk, Durian Sunan, Durian Otong and many more. Recently, a new durian variety, J-Queen, gained huge publicity due to its fantastic price. It is sold for IDR 14 million (around US$965) for a single fruit! It comes from a tree which produces just 20 durians in three years, hence its hefty price tag.

Durian flesh is good eaten raw, but some people grill the whole fruit first before enjoying it. For those who are not a big fan of durian’s famously pungent odour, durian bakar (grilled durian) is the perfect answer since the method removes the strong smell. Durian flesh can also be creatively transformed into many kinds of delicious snacks, desserts, cakes, curries and even a side dish to serve with glutinous rice.

Bandung's surabi with durian topping.

Medan, North Sumatra, is famous for durian pancakes – the bright, vibrant colours make them irresistible to taste. Cooking durian pancakes is no hassle at all since you simply blend the fruit with whipped cream and sweetened condensed milk for the filling. It is then wrapped in the thin pancakes, made of wheat flour, eggs, milk and pandanus leaves.

In Aceh, in the southwest and southern parts of the region, durian flesh is normally first fermented to produce a sour taste, then added to vegetables, coconut milk and shrimps. The dish is known locally as gule jruek drien or gulai asam durian (sour durian curry). The vegetables used in the delicacy include green eggplant, daun melinjo (gnetum gnemon leaves), kaffir lime leaves, tapak liman (elephantopus scaber) leaves, yardlong beans and lemongrass.

Delicate durian pancakes in vibrant colours.

The fermented durian, known locally as tempoyak, is also popular in Palembang, Bengkulu, Lampung, Jambi, and Pontianak in Kalimantan. Preparing it is very simple. Durian flesh is mixed with salt and kept in a closed jar for three to five days. Each of the regions in Sumatra has its own traditional way of serving tempoyak.

People in Lampung combine tempoyak with grilled freshwater fish, shrimp paste chilli sauce (sambal terasi) and mango. The cuisine is called seruit and served with steamed rice. The hint of hot chilli, sourness and sweetness will really tempt your palate. While in Jambi, tempoyak is normally added to silver catfish to make gulai ikan patin (silver catfish curry). The gulai is ubiquitous in Jambi’s restaurants.

Jambi's popular silver catfish curry with tempoyak.

In addition to tempoyak, lempok durian is popular in the cities of Sumatra and Kalimantan. Lempok is a sweet, toffee-like durian-based confection. Preparing it is quite tedious since it needs around four hours of stirring. The fruit is placed in a large pan over firewood, sugar and salt are added, and then it is stirred repeatedly to reach a sticky texture. Sweet and a bit chewy, lempok is best enjoyed with warm tea without sugar. At room temperature, lempok can keep for up to a month.

When you go to Bandung, West Java, you will find the Indonesian version of pancake, surabi, gets a little twist by topping it with durian sauce. However, if you prefer a cold dessert, Bogor, West Java, will indulge you with rich variants of a durian ice cream dessert, called sop duren. Combined with a variety of ingredients ranging from cendol (a rice flour jelly with green food colouring from pandanus leaves), slices of wheat bread, Oreo cookies and grated cheese, durian ice cream will take you to another level of food adventure. So…are you ready to take a bite?

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