Thursday, June 20, 2013

Fruit from God - Banana

Banana Fritters - Pisang Molen (Bandung)
Well, Maria Sharapova bit into her banana at every break during the French Open. I for one like to have one for breakfast, lunch and dinner. While overseas, having a hand of banana in my room would be nice. Each bunch will have about 10- 15 hands yielding 200 bananas. Banana is grown all over the tropics, from Australia to Bangladesh and is shipped around the world.

Eating bananas take different art forms in different cultures. Some peel just a third and start eating - working the peel downwards till the delectable fruit is completely devoured. Some peel till mid-point others till end before they start eating. We're used to peeling from top. However, some break it in 2 & peel. Some break/split the skin from the middle and peel sideways i.e. to the left and right thus exposing the banana for consumption.

There is one culture that is hospitable to a fault. They peel the bananas and handle it with their bare hands and place it on serving plate. Of course many find it objectionable.

The Thai infants have banana as their first solid food. Thais believe that they will grow strong with this initial diet. They will be fed until they reject it. My favourite local bananas are the local Pisang Mas', Berangans and Rastalis rather than the Montels, Cavendishes and Doles. It is packed with potassium and is an energy-boosting fruit!

Banana can also be baked and fried. We have caramelised and savoury chips. When fried in oil it makes a great snack. In fact it is one of the favourite snack in South East Asia. If you are in Bandung lookout for Pisang Mollen. My favourite is in the form of a Thai dessert. The bananas are sweetened and cooked with coconut milk and sago. Absolutely divine!

I consider the banana to be a really special food from God especially in the rural areas. It is hygienic, nutritious, easy to eat, readily available, and tasty. Perhaps a very important factor is hygiene. It did not need any preparation thus would not need to compromise its natural state. It can be eaten by removing the protective peel. No need to wash with water that may have been tainted. When I am travelling with group to the interior, I may buy a bunch. With a shelf life of at least three days and ready-to-eat familiar food, it promotes confidence when venturing into the unknown.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

King of the Fruits - Durians

Enjoying a few arils of durians when it is in season is a popular past-time when I am in any of the South East Asian countries. Known as the king of the fruits here, there are many ways to say durians in these countries but all of them ring the same! Vietnamese – sau rieng, Thai – tukrian, Khmer – touren, Lao – thulian, Malaysia, Indonesia, Tagalog, Singapore and Brunei – durian.

We have fun especially calling on westerners who have just landed in South East Asia to have a go. Many contort their faces while having it. This riddle will be abundantly clear after they have tried it? What taste like ice-cream and smell like sewage?

To me the best durians in the world must be from Balik Pulau. There are so many varieties in smell, colour, size and texture. Generally Malaysians like the arils soft but having body and texture, strong smell, sweet with a hint of bitter and come with a small seed.

Every Malaysians, me included, want to believe we have an extensive database of durians’ knowledge. All culled from good and bad buys! And mind you bad buys are more than good buys. That’s where we learn. So imagine a local posing this question, “How do you pluck a durian?” It was almost sarilegious and go to show a lack of knowledge. You never pluck a durian in Malaysia. It is allowed to drop on its own at night and then rushed to the market by mid-day

I had enjoyed durians in Indonesia, Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand. In the last few years I have seen more Thai varieties grown & sold in these nations. Thais like their durians hard (kaeng), we prefer them soft (nim). But whatever texture we want the seller with experience would be able to select the fruit in accordance to our preference. I used to get soft Chanee & Monthong at fraction of its price in Bangkok as it is considered spoilt goods!

We may boast of the best durians but it is un-exportable compare to Thai varieties which can be easily found in markets around the world. Durians in Thailand are plucked off the trees. Yes it's not ready to be eaten. But then it can be shipped around the world. Sellers use a slender stick to hit its shell to find out if it is ready to be consumed.

SS2 police station road will be packed with durian lovers big-spenders when it is in season - one for RM50 for a guaranteed fruit. Or for convenience, durian fixes can be administered at Giant supermarket especially after 9:30pm where these packed in Styrofoam trays can be had at 50% off.

Beyond eating it fresh, I like the sticky rice durian dessert. Thai sticky rice steamed to perfection. Top off with durians flesh cooked with coconut milk and lots of sugar. Off course we have durian puffs, ice-cream, doughnut etc and the redoubtable durian cake (dodol) made from less than desirable and rejected durians. The 'bad' durians (not ripe enough, over-ripe and with worms) are put in a huge wok & cooked in slow fire where it goes from gooey till firm enough to be rolled into cylinder shape.

And to the final frontier - Is there a market for genetically modified durian – a variety without thorns? Will it be a money losing venture? Durians without its thorns are unthinkable. “Duri” means thorns – in all its glory. So I can't imagine not donning gloves in splitting up the fruit. It is almost a ritual and this difficult exercise makes the eating of durians even more appealing. Bon appetit!