Durian on pizza, in curry crab and clay pot chicken: Hong Kong chefs get creative with ‘king of fruits’

With its powerful smell no fruit divides opinion more, but for fans of durian used to eating it only in desserts there are some imaginative savoury offerings at Hong Kong restaurants this season

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 June, 2016, 6:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 January, 2017, 2:25pm

With durian, there’s often a fine line between love and hate. No other fruit is as polarising – inspiring extreme reactions that vary from person to person.

Many can’t even stand its smell – often described as “rotting garbage” and “decomposing flesh”. Others, meanwhile, are willing to pay top dollar for “the king of fruits”, especially for the varieties imported from Malaysia, which are smaller than those from Thailand.

Although durian is produced throughout the year, April to June is considered by many to be the best time to taste this spiky fruit. And while purists will argue that the fruit should be enjoyed on its own, chefs are coming up with creative ways to incorporate durian into their dishes.

Thai Yuen, a Thai seafood restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui, came up with several new dishes in May including durian curry fried crabs, durian cheese baked big-head shrimp, durian cheese deep-fried spring roll and Thai durian fried rice.

Candy Lam, manager of the restaurant, says its Thai chef came up with the dishes himself after a previous durian shaved ice dessert at the restaurant was well received.

“Not many restaurants in Hong Kong would do a dish like this, as durian is a fruit that some people don’t accept,” she says.

Thai Yuen uses the Monthong strain from Thailand (purchased at Yau Ma Tei fruit market), with soft, sweet and slightly yellowish flesh and small seeds underneath the hard, spiky shell.

Costing HK$44 per kilogram, Monthong is the most commercially sought after strain of durian, although it’s expensive for its relatively mild smell. Thai Yuen’s chef Yodchai Sribuaban says the creamy and soft flesh of durian makes the fruit an ideal ingredient in various dishes.

“In Thailand, they only use durian to make dessert, like the durian sticky rice or salad like the papaya and durian salad. But I know Hong Kong people like seafood, so I invented those durian seafood dishes.”

The restaurant’s durian fried crab, the chef explains, is made with evaporated milk, chilli sauce and curry powder as well as the fruit.

For the durian fried rice, only the outer flesh is used, so that the soft inner flesh can be cut into cubes and mixed into the rice after being frozen for one night.

In Thai Yuen’s version of deep-fried spring roll, cheese is mixed with durian. In one bite, diners get crunch (from the fried wrapper), melting, stretchy cheese and soft and creamy durian.

Although the durian dishes have received an overwhelmingly positive response, Yodchai says the best durian dishes are found in Thailand. “A durian [in Thailand] is eaten half a day after it is harvested, so it’s fresher. The ones we eat in Hong Kong are harvested [before they’re ripe], and they are ripened by the plane’s stuffy cargo hold area.”

Also using the Monthong durian for new dishes is Sweetish by Honeymoon Dessert, a new dessert shop in Yuen Long opened by the Honeymoon Dessert chain, and aimed at a younger crowd.

The new durian pizza offered at the shop is a thin disc of dough topped with Monthong durian, cream cheese and mozzarella. The mashed durian is mixed with custard powder, cheese and butter to make a sauce that is slathered on the bread before being baked.

Christine Yeung, marketing manager with Honeymoon Dessert, says its durian desserts are popular with customers.

“Those who love it see it as a must-eat,” she says, referring to her company’s durian milkshake, durian pancake, and durian shaved ice with black glutinous rice.

Probably the most creative durian dish we’ve heard of recently is the durian chicken pot now being served at Fisher & Farmer in Tsim Sha Tsui. Garlic, chilli, star anise and chicken are fried together, then mashed Monthong durian is mixed with coconut syrup, cheese and butter and added while the dish simmers. Chef Cheng Chi-wah says the aromatic durian smell is absorbed by the chicken in the pot.

“We use durian that is 90 per cent ripe. This dish is especially good for people who have never tasted durian before, as the durian taste in the chicken is only slight.”

Besides Monthong durian, some Hong Kong shops use the king of durian, Musang King from Malaysia, which sell for around HK$275 per kilogram, or HK$500 to HK$700 apiece.

Musang King in Yuen Long imports its namesake fruit, the most expensive and desirable of all durians, from Malaysia. Although the season for it is brief, the shop stores the fruits at minus 18 degrees Celsius, so fans can enjoy the delicacy year round. Musang King has a much stronger flavour than other durian varieties and the shop uses it in egg puddings, puffs, mochi, pancakes, crêpes, strudels and mooncakes.

Thai Yuen

Shop A, 2/F, Cameron Plaza, 23-25A Cameron Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 3746 9966

Sweetish by Honeymoon Dessert

Shop A315B, 3/F, Yoho Mall II, 8 Long Yat Road, Yuen Long, tel: 2325 4049

Musang King

Lee Fat House, 5 Yan Lok Square, Yuen Long, tel: 2402 3039

Fisher & Farmer

2/F, Carnarvon Plaza, 20 Carnarvon Road‎, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 2529 8383