The Ultimate Bangkok Durian Guide: What You Need To Know About the Stinky Fruit
November 27, 2012 By Mark Wiens 56 Comments
The list of appealing adjectives could go on forever when describing the king of fruits.
Yet all word based descriptions fall wholly short of coming even remotely close to the real divine sensation that can only result from a buttery lump of durian.
When that utter creaminess fills your mouth, words become meaningless, all struggles are left behind, and life in general takes a turn for the better.
Though I’m more than a little passionate about durian fruit (and many are on my side), others despise the innocent natural produce and even somehow find it offensive.
There’s no denying: the spiky durian is unbelievably unique.
The beautiful spiky durian fruit!
What is Durian?
Durian is a Southeast Asian fruit that’s most popular in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippines.
Many durian trees are large and can grow anywhere from 20 – 50 meters in height. There are many different species and cultivars of durian, some with a more pungently distinct flavor while others are calmer and less strong.
Though I have seen a photo of a thornless durian, the most distinct characteristic of any durian is its lethal thorny outer shell. Rather than a fruit, a durian looks more like a medieval war club – just one of the many reasons it’s so enchanting!
Wrapped within the dangerous exterior is soft creamy flesh that’s normally yellowish or cream in color and firm to soft depending on ripeness. Each pod of the fruit flesh is sectioned off in separate segments.
Durian is most notorious for is its smell.
What some describe as rotting socks, fermented garlic and onions, or just straight up barf, to me is the sweetest perfume known to man. But somehow I just love odd edibles durian, stink beans, and wood apples.
The aroma is so strong, it can linger for days, making durian illegal in many air conditioned or public buildings in Southeast Asia.
A massive, not so pretty 10 kilo durian!
Durian season in Thailand is from around April through August
However, durian in Bangkok can be found year round
Durian is banned from many hotels and public facilities
Durian is both loved and hated by many
Durian is also known as the “king of fruits”
Mangosteen, known as the “queen of fruits,” complements durian perfectly - they should be eaten together
Durian makes your body hot, for reals!
Important: Don’t eat durian and drink alcohol, due to raising blood pressure it’s a bad combo. Don’t do it.
I just took a bite of an extremely custardy delicious durian!
What Does Durian Taste Like?
Ok, not to everyone.
But ever since I took my first bite of durian in Malaysia, followed by adurian buffet, I was addicted.
To me, and other durian lovers, it tastes like sweet creamy butter. It’s like custard made from colostrum, smooth as silk, sweeter than honey, and searching for a bite is worth more than relaxing on a pristine beach in Zanzibar.
The riper the fruit (like I most enjoy it), it can be a bit mushier, and even include a bitter tinge that’s absolutely delightful. I simply just love odds edibles, stink beans and wood apples,,
Though I have zero negative things to say about durian, I’ll try my hardest to describe the other side of the story.
Some feel that durian has a repulsive flavor that falls somewhere in between a rotting carcass and blue cheese. The texture is what gets many, a mushiness that some find hard to stomach.
But that’s not to turn you off, you MUST try durian for yourself!
3 Kinds of Durian (ทุเรียน)
Durian Monthong – Golden Pillow (ทุเรียนหมอนทอง)
Though there are hundreds of durian cultivars throughout Thailand and Southeast Asia, there are 3 main varieties that are abundantly available.
When you’re out exploring Bangkok, look out for these delicious durians.
1. Monthong – Golden Pillow (ทุเรียนหมอนทอง)
Monthong, which translates to golden pillow in Thai, is probably the most widespread durian in Thailand; It’s also the most famous exported variety.
If you stumble into durian in another part of the world, like North America or even China, it may be a Thai Golden Pillow.
The fruit is large, often 3 – 5 kilos per fruit and is characterized by large triangular spikes. The flesh of the fruit is very meaty and can be considered one of the least pungent in both aroma and flavor.
It’s rich and sweet.
The chunks of durian that emerge from a monthong are gigantic, honestly, some are the size of personal baguettes.
The largest monthong durian I’ve ever bought in Thailand was over 10 kilos.
After spotting it at a vendor at Samrong Market, my friend Joel and I had to purchase it merely because of its huge size. Unfortunately, it was watery and not very good, but it sure was fun!
If you’re a first time durian sampler, you may want to go with monthong.
Price: About 50 – 100 THB per kilo
Durian Chanee – Gibbon (ทุเรียนชะนี)
2. Chanee – Gibbon (ทุเรียนชะนี)
Chanee is more pungent, softer, more buttery, and stronger in nearly every way than a monthong. Yet at the same time, for myself personally, it’s not quite as rich and I can eat more volume of chanee than monthong.
The flesh is often eaten very ripe, when it turns to a gorgeous golden yellow. The riper a chanee gets, the stronger the luscious aroma becomes. The meat turns bitter adding an extra wonderful dimension to the sweetness.
Price: About 50 – 80 THB per kilo
Durian Kanyao – Long Stem (ทุเรียนก้านยาว)
3. Kanyao – Long Stem (ทุเรียนก้านยาว)
Kanyao, or the long stem durian, is normally the most expensive and high class durian to eat in Bangkok. If you have a chance to eat kanyao, take it!
It’s medium in size, and distinct because it’s normally quite round like a volleyball, not in in rounded segments like a monthong.
The flesh is very sweet, incredibly creamy and even when overripe it doesn’t become too mushy.
I’m undecided as to wether chanee or kanyao is better; Both are wildly delicious.
There’s also the famed “Nonthaburi Kanyao,” the most well known durian in Thailand that can fetch $200 per fruit. I’m still waiting for my first sample!
Price: About 80 – 150 THB per kilo
Sticky rice and durian – this is homemade!
Ways to Eat Durian
Here are the most common forms of eating durian in Bangkok.
1. Straight From the Shell
In my opinion, durian flesh right out of the shell, is by far the best way to eat durian. That being said, anything flavored with durian is also great, but can’t compare to the fruit in its most natural form.
2. Durian and Sticky Rice
This is what I consider to be one of the best Thai desserts, a bowl of sweet sticky rice topped with ripe durian and smothered in sweet coconut cream.
3. Durian Ice Cream
Ice cream is fantastic, durian ice cream is mouthwatering!
4. Durian Fruit Roll
There’s this thing in Thailand for the durian super addicts called durian guan. Basically it’s preserved durian wrapped into a tube. The flavor is quite strong and the texture is about like sticky toothpaste.
5. Durian Chips (Crisps)
Fried durian chips lose all their distinct durian flavor. If you find that you don’t like durian, you’ll probably enjoy durian chips; And if you do enjoy durian, you’ll like them too. They taste similar to fruity potato chips with no overwhelming flavor.
6. Durian Pastries
Durian cake and durian flavored pastries are common. They normally include real fruit puréed so they pack in some amazing durian power.
Where to Eat Durian in Bangkok:
Durian cart vendor on the streets of Bangkok
1. Streets Everywhere
During durian season, which normally goes from April to August annually, durian is everywhere. You’ll see market stalls set up all over the city with piles of durian as well as countless pushcart vendors hawking their prized collection along the streets.
During the peak of the season, pickup trucks stashed full of the cash crop, slowly patrol neighborhoods while announcing to everyone they are selling durian through a loudspeaker.
Durian at Or Tor Kor Market
2. Or Tor Kor Market
Year round, Or Tor Kor Market in Bangkok is one of the best places to eat durian. Most of what’s sold is kanyao, but you can find all three varieties.
The great thing about the market is that vendors take extreme care in peeling their durians and arranging them for display. Grab a conveniently pre-peeled styrofoam plate of durian, unwrap it from the pastic covering, and sit down on a clean bench to immediately devour!
Durian in Bangkok’s Chinatown Yaowarat
3. Chinatown Yaowarat
Yaowarat, Chinatown Bangkok, is another place to find top quality durian throughout the year. Normally you can find a few street cart vendors as well as the most beautiful truck in the world packed with durian.
Though not in Bangkok, the annual Chathaburi world durian festival takes place annually and attracts a great crowd of durian lovers.
Monthong durian at the fruit buffet
Also, if you want to take a Bangkok day trip to devour as much fruit as possible, consider visiting Suan Supatra farm to indulge in the all you can eat fruit buffet. It was sensational.
One last piece of advice…
Press testing a kanyao (long stem) durian in Bangkok.
The Press Test
Pressing the flesh of the fruit to test its ripeness is both accepted and necessary in the process of shopping for durian.
Firm means less pungent, while soft means intensely flavorful. If you’re trying for the first time, I’d recommend a firmer durian, and if you like it, the softer the better.
There you have it, everything you need to know to get out there and explore durian. Eating durian is what I consider one of the top things to do while you’re in Bangkok!
And while you’re at it, have a bite for me too!