Durian hunters

SINGAPORE - When American tourists Rob Culclasure and Lindsay Gasik last visited Singapore, durian sellers in Geylang tried to cheat them. They tried to pass off a Thai Chanee as a Mao Shan Wang.

But the sellers had picked the wrong targets.

Because the married couple are durian addicts who have travelled across South-east Asia eating and learning about the king of fruits, and know almost everything there is to know about them.

The couple, who got married in 2009, first tried durian on a trip to the Philippines in 2010, and fell in love with the fruit.

Said Ms Gasik, 24: "It's a unique fruit with all these contrasting flavours."

For Mr Culclasure, 31, the allure of the durian lies in the thrill of selecting one.

"Every single durian is different, so you have to take a gamble and smell it, taste it. It's an art and a science."

But when they tried to find out more about the fruit online, they drew a blank.

Ms Gasik said: "There just wasn't enough information on the Internet then."

So they decided to spend a year tasting every kind of durian they could find, in 2012.

They ate their way through nine South-east Asian countries, including Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, and share their adventures and insights on their Year Of The Durian blog.

They created the blog as a means to communicate with friends and family, but it now has about 40,000 views monthly.

Recounting their encounter with the Geylang durian sellers, the couple immediately recognised the "large, rectangular spikes" and yellow-painted stem of the Thai durian.

The Thai Chanee is typically less expensive than a Mao Shan Wang, which is prized for its creamier flesh and intense flavour.


Said Ms Gasik in a phone interview: "I wonder how many tourists have been conned and sold bad durians, and are consequently wary of the fruit.

"It's a shame. A lot of people in the West expect durians to be bad. So when they get a bad one, it's just validating their expectations."

Mr Culclasure added: "Through our blog, we want to let people know how to identify the different types and select a good durian, so they can properly enjoy the fruit."

The couple have spent a lot of time in orchards and rural areas where tourists don't really go.

After their one-year adventure ended, Mr Culclasure worked in agriculture jobs in the region - Sri Lanka, Penang and finally Australia.

Ms Gasik, based in Australia, is writing a travel book, The Durian Tourist: Guide to Thailand.

It will be available through their website (www.yearofthedurian.com) and Amazon from this Sunday.

The durian lovers revealed that they plan to move to Thailand or Malaysia some time next year, so they will never be too far away from the fruit.

Their favourite durian is...

They spent more than a year eating countless types of durian.

Many are local varieties that can be sampled only by visiting a specific country.

Some are so rare that the couple had to enlist the help of locals to guide them as they searched for the fruits in the jungle.

But when asked for her favourite durian variety, Ms Lindsay Gasik said: "We will never say what our favourite durian is.

"There are too many out there that are wonderful. And we like keeping the secret.

"But we really enjoy Red Prawn durian, Suluk durian and a variety called Arancillo in the Philippines."

The Red Prawn durian, known locally as Ang Har, has a creamy texture and bittersweet taste.

While the Red Prawn is available in Singapore, the Suluk is usually found in Borneo.

It is a cross between the orange durio graveolens and durio zibethinus species.

Durian lovers hoping to go on a similar durian hunt will have to choose their destinations wisely.

"Different places specialise in different flavours of durian," said Ms Gasik.

"The fact that there is no 'one-size-fits-all' durian is one of the things I appreciate about it."

This article was first published on May 27, 2014.
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