My quest for the ultimate Durian has brought me to one of the oldest and possibly the most famous of Durian sellers. This is where Durian Devotees make their annual pilgrimage to pay homage to the Durian deity and prostrate themselves before the “King of Kings”(王中王).
Anyway, I found myself at this Durian stall located just next to the Tua Pek Kong temple because my Durian expert tells me that this is where I would find the “King of Kings” which is the latest Durian sensation in town. This is not actually a new cultivar, but simply the Mao Shan Wang from the old trees in Gua Musang, Kelantan where the first Mao Shan Wang was cultivated.
The famed Durian cultivar was originally called Raja Kunyit before it became Musang King and finally Mao Shan Wang. It is sometimes written as 猫山王 (lit Cat Mountain King) which resulted in people wondering whether the mountain was so named because there were lots of cats there. The 73 year old, Mr Ang explained to me that the original name was in fact 毛山王 (lit Hairy Mountain King) which was simply a transliteration of Musang King and had nothing to do with cats and the mountain was certainly not hairy! But actually, the later 猫山王 transliteration could be a little more accurate since Musang in Malay actually means civet cat and Gua Musang means “Cave of Civet Cats.”
Mr Ang knows all this very well as he has lived through it all. He started selling Durians in the Balestier area in 1957 when he was still a strapping young man.
“Last time one durian only costs 50 cents and we used to sell 3 for $1” he tells me.
He is truly one of Singapore’s foremost Durian pioneer. In the days when people were selling generic Durians, he decided to up the game by making a daily trip to Muar to hand pick his own Durians to sell to his customers back in Singapore. That was how he build his reputation as a seller of quality Durians. When the branded Durians started to come into the market he played a big role in the popularity of the cultivars by coining catchy names for them. He was the first to call the D24 “Sultan Durian” and last year when he received a very special batch of Mao Shan Wang from Gua Musang, he started calling them 王中王 (King of Kings).
Mr Ang cautions me that the supply of 王中王is very small and ever since he popularized the term last year, other people have also been selling Durians which they claim are 王中王. There are of course no rules and regulations governing this, so the Durian market is essentially like the wild west where anyone can claim a Durian to be anything they want and only those who are familiar with Durians would know any better.
What makes his supply of 王中王special, apart from the fact that they are from Gua Musang is the fact that they use nets to catch the Durian instead of letting them hit the ground. This helps to prevent excessive bruising of the Durian. Some experts I spoke to believe that Durians should still be allowed to fall naturally as the impact actually helps develop flavour. This is something which I think we will be debating this for a long long time.
I guess the question on everyone’s mind is this whether there is a big difference between the $18/kg 王中王 and the “normal” $12/kg Mao Shan Wang and whether it is worth paying the difference.
Well, let me just say that this is the first and only time that I am trying the 王中王, so I can’t vouch for the consistency. However, based on the particular Durian in the photo and another one which I brought home to eat, this was indeed the most sublime Mao Shan Wang I have come across. The flesh was as creamy as caramel custard and the pungent sweetness was followed by a long lingering bitterness that hits the back of the palate and stays there for a while. Both my mother-in-law and my wife said it was the best Mao Shan Wang they have had so far.
One of the innovations that Mr Ang had come up with recently was the introduction of a special smell-tight plastic wrap that ensures that you can carry the Durians onto the MRT without anyone knowing. I was a little skeptical at first because I have tried sealing those foam boxes in Ziploc bags but somehow the smell manages to permeate the plastic so that the fridge still stinks of Durian for a days. However, I brought back my box of 王中王 and left it in the fridge to chill for a couple of hours and amazingly, there was no smell!
By the way, I always find that Durians taste better chilled and I like to pair it with some strong Pu Erh tea. The tea does an amazing job of cleansing the palate and complements the Durians quite well.
Combat Durians has over the years built a rock solid reputation for selling quality Durians. It’s little wonder that they were recently awarded the Asia Pacific Brand Awards! If you are looking for the best of the best Mao Shan Wang, then this is the place to find it!
PS: Forgot to tell you why Combat Durian is named “Combat”. It was supposed to be Durians that after you eat, you will sure “Come Back”. I guess the typo eventually became its endearing Brand!