Why Thai People Go Crazy for this Durian... (Spoiler: It's not the Musang King!)
Sawasdee! I was in Bangkok a few weeks ago and discovered a new-found love for durian. While others either lose themselves or pinch their nose in disgust over a piece of yellowish torpedo-shaped fruit, I've always had a less polarized attitude towards it, and would even have a few bites if I'm traveling in Southeast Asia. This all changed after tasting the legendary Ganyao durian, one of the most prized variety of the king of fruits in the land of smiles.
Buying durian in Thailand
According to this comprehensive guide on Year of the Durian, there are 5 main families, and as many as 234 varieties of durian in Thailand. You can find them pretty much anywhere on the streets, from pushcart vendors street hawkers, and from wet markets to high-end grocers. Get in line at the back of a truck-full of durians, and the owner will hold one close to his ear, tapping the spiny shell with a special padded stick to determine whether it's at your desired ripeness. He will then slice open a triangular flap in the rind to expose the fragrant flesh, which you may peer into, smell, and poke with your bare fingers. This is totally acceptable in a country where every durian eater is a connoisseur.
It's hard to explain the experience of eating durian. Underneath each spiky sheath are three to four custardy batards. Hold it to your mouth with the perfectly folded parchment envelope and smooch like you would a soft serve cone. Most durian fans religiously sought after a mushy texture and pungent odor, but Thai people prefer theirs less ripe, with a soft crunch and subtle sweetness.
The Ganyao Appeal
Ganyao (干堯) is the most expensive variety in Thailand. One of Ganyao's appeal is its progression of flavours over stages of ripeness. At 70% ripe the flesh is crisp with a flowery note, at 90% ripe it is creamy and buttery with a nectarous aroma, and at full ripeness it becomes pudding-like with hints of woodsy smoke and savouriness. Each golden yellow piece of flesh fits ergonomically in your hand, plump and soft similar to the Monthong (金枕頭), but slightly more fibrous.
Where to find it?
One particular stall at the Or Tor Kor Market near Chatuchak market sells Ganyao that locals go crazy for, despite long lines and a high premium. The exclusive variety is touted to be grown on a small farm and has a tiny seed, meaning more durian flesh per fruit. Every purchase comes with free package service should you wish to transport the pungent fruit into your hotel room or even on a flight.
To get your own, walk past the vibrant fresh vegetables, meats and seafood section and go straight back to the organic market. Across from the air-conditioned Royal Project market you will see a swarm of local fans waiting to sample entire segments of Ganyao at a store named "Nong Nid". The owner is of celebrity status here, multitasking customer orders and photo ops, but still smiling and chatting the entire time. At the time of visit, a kilogram of durian meat was ฿3000, around US$95! Get a taste of your own to decide if it's worth the hype!