I came back to Southeast Asia just in time for durian season and the timing was no coincidence. I arrived in Bangkok, jet-lagged and tired, at six in the morning. By two in the afternoon, I was wandering the streets of the Chanthaburi World Durian Festival.
I tried to temper my expectations, but they were absurdly high. World. Durian. Festival. I likely would have been disappointed by anything short of a free 24-hour tasting booth with my name on it.
So when I saw the festival was a modestly sized street fair with only a few booths devoted to durian, I was disappointed. That said, it is hard for someone as obsessed with durian as I am to be wholly disappointed when at least 20% of the vendors have stacks and piles of my favorite spiked fruit.
It would be a bit more accurate to call this a fruit festival. Chanthaburi is a famous fruit-producing province in Thailand, and the bounty is especially impressive in summer. We walked by many booths overflowing with mangosteens, durians, rambutans, snakefruit, pineapples, jackfruits, and more. In addition, there were stalls selling street food of a wider scope than usual (though there was no sticky rice with durian, which surprised and disappointed me anew). The festival seemed more of an excuse to bring the family, have a walk around the man-made lake with the kiddies, and sample the snacks from the street vendors.
There was a parade and a giant stage.
The sign above the cosmic backdrop says Amazing Thailand World Durian Festival Chanthaburi 2011
And floats decorated elaborately with fruit.
Trust me, you want a closer view of this.
Check out those rabbits made from durians, cucumbers, mini eggplants, and chili peppers. Also, get a load of the chili pepper mustache on the turtle!
There were prizes awarded to the best durians in several categories and breeds.
Everywhere you could see statues of durians, pictures of durians, and even two kids dressed up as durians.
But I was hoping for more. I was hoping for a booth comparing and contrasting the different breeds of durian so I could begin to get an idea of which my favorite were. I thought it might have been nice to have durian in every conceivable permutation—ice cream, pastries, chips, preserved and dried, jams, candies. Maybe some hands-on booths which would allow you to create something—durian with sticky rice, for example. How about an informational booth in which you could learn about the process of growing and harvesting durian? I'd like to know more factoids about durian production in Chanthaburi, too. I know that a higher percentage of land in Chanthaburi is devoted to growing durian than anywhere else in the world, but I'd like to learn more. Maybe it could be possible to book a tour with a local orchard through the festival, then go visit that orchard later during the week, while there, sampling different varieties and seeing how durians are grown.
All the same, there was a lot of durian, and that is guaranteed to put a smile on my face. Here are a few highlights:
Watching durian chips being made. Turns out, it’s basically the same process as potato chips. They take underripe (and thus firm) durian, slice it on a mandoline, then fry it up in batches.
I sampled organically grown durian.
Met a kind seller who gave us all the free durian we could eat, even opening and gifting us a whole three-kilo fruit to share.
But perhaps the biggest success of the afternoon was that I finally got a chance to learn about and taste different varieties of durian: golden pillow, golden button, long stem, gibbon. I’ll write up a separate post comparing these varieties soon.
So of course it was a fun afternoon; it just wasn’t the durian gluttonfest I had anticipated.
The Chanthaburi World Durian Festival is held every year at the beginning of durian season, usually in May.
Grammar note: I apologize for the vacillation. I’m not sure whether durian is a countable or uncountable noun and therefore treated it incoherently as either and both depending on my whim in each sentence :)