Few fruits, if any, raise as much emotion as the Southeast Asian durian. It’s both venerated and reviled, mainly because of its pungent smell. Most travellers in the region bemusedly recall signs in hotels and public transport banning the fruit.
I first discovered the dreaded durian during the 1970s while scouting new backpacker locations for Qantas Airways, and in my room at a Surabaya hotel I noticed a sign saying, “No smelly fruits in room.”
Enquiring further as to what this meant, I was introduced to the concept of the durian, and after sampling it I wondered why on earth anyone would want to take one to a hotel room anyway.
Over time, I came to warm to the durian but it’s never loomed large on my list of favourite foods. And I would never regard it as the “king of fruits”, as some hail it. That honour I grant maybe to the mangosteen.
Be that as it may, Siem Reap’s Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor is holding a Durian Gourmet Festival, a “one-week carnival of durian” from June 21-27.
Attendees will be able to do many durian-oriented things, such as sample durians from different regions in Cambodia, talk to durian growers from Kampong Cham and Kampot, and stop at stalls to buy durian products.
But mostly attendees will be able to experience durian cuisine.
A durian dinner, costing an auspiciously numbered $18.88, will feature creations such as green pepper and durian sautéed prawns, lemongrass and basil poached chicken breast with mashed garlic and durian salsa, and mushroom and durian cutlets with durian concasse.
Also featured will be a range of durian desserts, including new creations durianmisu and durian éclair, and drinks such as durian smoothies.
But the highlight of the occasion will be, according to general manager Robert Hauck, the unleashing on the public of the durian pancake, which attained culinary cult status among the region’s foodies after its introduction at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Kuala Lumpur earlier this decade.
Hauck, who worked at the Mandarin in 2004, says he’s inspired by the popularity of the durian pancake and decided to give it a run here.
The durian festival is aimed at Khmer and expatriates, not just hotel guests. But the big question is: Can hotel guests who attend the festival take durian back to their room?
Robert Hauck’s resounding response is, “No.”
He claims it’s too difficult to get the smell out of the room. And so goes the story of the durian.
PUBLIC SERVICE WARNING:
On September 16, 2009 New Scientist reported, “According to Asian folklore, eating the famously pungent durian along with alcohol can kill you. Now intrepid researchers have confirmed there may be some truth in this supposition. It is the first time combining a fruit with booze has been scientifically linked to an adverse reaction.”