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‘Vegetarian-flavour’ pot noodle and yucky durians

By on Nov 21, 2010 in Travel | 18 comments

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The only Oriental food that I am familiar with in Singapore (because of its ubiquitousness around the world) is pot noodle. Vegetarian cuisine is hard to find here, thus I was overjoyed to find ‘vegetarian-flavour’ pot noodle (“suitable for vegetarians”, as the packaging clarifies) at the supermarket.

I have never eaten vegetarian flavour noodles in my entire life. My curiosity was aroused enough to make me attempt to decipher the ingredients on its packaging:

Made using finely chopped bits of the tenderest and juiciest vegetarians money can buy, mixed with a dash of parsley and packaged with light, fluffy dehydrated noodles.

The above text might be slightly mistranslated as my grasp of Mandarin is sketchy.

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My Singaporean friends have been pestering me to try eating durian for a long time now. Some said they “absolutely fucking love durian lah” while others were more cautious and called it an acquired taste. From its reputation I gathered the latter statement had a higher chance of being true. The Wikipedia article on durians compares its taste to “turpentine, rotten onions, and gym socks” – and I’m not quite sure whether that qualifies as vandalism or not.

Presumably, the durians will cry for their mommy if you do so. Note - the yellow-things in the background aren't it.

According to the first group, “the best fucking durian lah” can be found in Geylang, the red light district of Singapore – where, to quote again, “the odd-numbered lanes stink lah because those are the ones where durians are sold, and the even-numbered streets stink because that’s where all the hookers are, lah“. (I might be remembering it the wrong way round; don’t blame me if you go to Geylang and end up in the wrong lane.) Not quite wanting to brave the full force of the stink, I opted to try out durian in a more civilized setting instead.

Durian Mpire is a chain of eateries that exclusively sells durian ‘delicacies’. This company, whose name was thought up by an advertising campaign of marketing executives (the appropriate collective noun has been used), sells durian shakes, durian juice, durian cakes, durian crepes, durian ice cream, durian waffles, durian puffs…and bear with me because I’m running out of breath here…plain ol’ durian. I have passed by this store many times at the local mall, seen many families happily munching on durian delights that I decided to give it a go on a whim one day. I ordered a ‘Mini Durian’, which is a small pudding-cup sized serving of plain ol’ durian.

Looks appetizing, doesn’t it? In hindsight, the fact that this came little fucker came in a sealed airtight jar should have set alarm bells ringing in my head. The icing that you see on the top is merely a thin layer of sugary camouflage that hides the real horror beneath it – a chunk of durian fruit flesh. (The bright colours are probably thrown in to sucker in kids and naïve tourists into buying the stuff.) The texture is akin to that of…dense and chewy cotton candy while the taste itself…well, nothing can quite parallel durian for comparisons. If I ever had the misfortune of tasting my own shit (say, if a Saw movie style Jigsaw Killer forced me to) I assume that would come close to describing it.

I ate two tiny spoonfuls before I gave up and threw it into a trashcan. (I momentarily considered giving it to some starving, homeless person but then I remembered I was in Singapore and I wasn’t going to find one. Certainly not on the third floor of a mall.) In a nutshell, durian is the most dis-fucking-gusting thing I’ve eaten so far.

The worst part about eating durian is the pungent smell – so pungent that it stings your eyes. No, scratch that. The worst part about eating durian is that even if you have two small spoonfuls, the taste and ‘durian breath’ lingers for hours on end. I downed a whole packet of Clorets breath mints and still the smell / aftertaste didn’t go away. :|

If I ever become an evil scientist and/or a billionaire I pledge that – cancer and world peace be damned – I will spend millions on funding research into wiping this fruit off the face of this planet.

Okay, maybe I’ll give durian one more chance later when I feel brave again and opt for a freshly-cut durian instead, as my friends here have suggested after hearing about my experience. I have a much better understanding of the gravity of the warning at public transport stations here preventing commuters from carrying durian during a journey.

Photo courtesy travelskerricks

"Code RED! Code RED! There's a durian on this train lah!"

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Chinese cuisine as its found in Singapore is completely different from what you would find in India – or the UK for that matter. ‘Chinese’ takeaway food in the UK is mostly a sham, where ‘satay’, ‘sweet and sour’, and ‘pork’ are randomly thrown in front of meat / vegetable dish names and a cheap price tag tacked on. Hey, when the bloke ordering it probably drunk and will praise it as heavenly food anyway.

Also, the unfailing British tradition of ordering Chinese takeaway by calling out dish numbers rather than names. "Can I have one #42 please?"

In any of the Chinese cuisine stalls in cafeterias here, or hawker stalls all over Singapore, I am hard pressed to find any ‘Chinese’ dish so far that is familiar to me. This ‘gap’ is particularly evident when it comes to noodle-based dishes. Noodles are often served boiled instead of fried and oily as in Sino-Ludhianvi cuisine that I am accustomed to in India. I ordered a mushroom vegetable noodle once at a canteen in university, and was mildly shocked to get boiled – almost raw – thin-stranded noodles with raw mushrooms and cabbage stalks (chopped using scissors)!

If you collect enough mushrooms, you can upgrade to stainless steel chopsticks.

The same goes for soup. Soup, as I know it, is supposed to be thick and gravy-like, or broth with other ingredients thrown in (perhaps, shark). In the Chinese cuisine canteens here when I ask for soup however, I get clear, boiling hot water with a lot of oil thrown in and nothing else. I have been told that Chinese cuisine in Singapore is quite different from mainland Chinese cuisine as it is influenced by coastal Chinese cuisine, which veers towards raw ingredients and seafood.

Photo credit: Arthur Ohm

The closest thing I have to ‘Chinese food’ that I am familiar to is Korean kimchi noodle – which tastes a lot like Maggi with kimchi thrown into a big bowl of boiling water. Yes, I’m pretty sure it was Maggi. And one of these days I’ll find out what’s the effing deal with adding boiling water to every sort of vaguely Oriental food.



18 Comments

  1. Vivek

    November 21, 2010

    Post a Reply

    Hmm…when I opened the Wiki on durian, I almost thought it was a jackfruit. But after reading your description, I’m pretty much convinced otherwise.

    “Collect mushrooms to upgrade” – Priceless

  2. arjun

    November 21, 2010

    Post a Reply

    I love this post! :)
    Reminds of my vacation in Singapore last summer…and that god damn durian! That bastard of a thing had me excited for 5 days before I bought it on Bugis street

      • rachit

        November 22, 2010

        just buy it already! dont you want to know what turpentine and gym socks taste like, eh?

    • Ankur Banerjee

      November 22, 2010

      Post a Reply

      :D

      Do you get Maggi in the USA? It was difficult for me to find in the UK; whatever ones we did get were all small packs ‘Made by Nestle India’.

      • rachit

        November 22, 2010

        i want to eat Maggi. RIGHT NOW.

      • Sathya

        November 22, 2010

        Yeah, Maggi is available in Indian stores! Both the single as well as the family pack is available. Maggi is always in stock in my kitchen :D

  3. Vidit

    November 22, 2010

    Post a Reply

    “The durians will cry for their mommy if you do so (touch them)” eh? I suppose it will be completely otherwise. ;) . They’re armored with spines capable of drawing blood (if you don’t already know it)

  4. Abhimanyu

    November 23, 2010

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    I always thought u were a non-vegetarian. Also is Malaysian cuisine a lot like the stuff you in Singapore?

    • Ankur Banerjee

      November 23, 2010

      Post a Reply

      Singapore doesn’t have much of a cuisine of its own; what it does have is wide availability of Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, Indonesian etc cuisines. In that sense, Malaysian cuisine is easily available in Singapore – and good!

  5. Agrim

    November 23, 2010

    Post a Reply

    HAHAHAHA.

    I was told by my roommates that it tasted like a mango, and I had my share, seeing them gobble up the pieces.

    And then I threw up.

    Swear I’ll never try durians again.

  6. Espèra

    November 24, 2010

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    Lol. My curiosity regarding the ban on durians in public transport has also been satisfied now. :P
    And thanks for the warning. You are a brave soul to have tasted durian and spread the word to save the mankind from its terribleness.

    I wonder why people eat durian for durations long enough to acquire the taste. :P

    • Ankur Banerjee

      November 24, 2010

      Post a Reply

      It’s a really polarized debate. Even hardcore fans of durian fruit that I have among my friends here acknowledge that it smells pungent, but the taste is where the major disagreement lies. Some call it ‘creamy and buttery’ while others call it ‘rotting corpses’. Maybe it’s just a case of growing up eating the fruit, and thus being used to and able to look past the smell. And smell influences taste perceptions of food in a big way.

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