For me, Batam represented a fruit paradise. There were fruits we couldn’t dream of available at the local hypermart, which represented the most pleasurable shopping experience of my life because of the novelty of the foodstuffs such as durian-flavoured milk. Fruits and vegetables are usually imported to Batam, however in general fruit was incredibly cheap at about AU$2-3 per kilo.
Beyond the typical tropical fruits we were accustomed to like papaya, pineapple and guava, we were blessed with an abundance of lychee-type fruits like longan, rambutan and snake fruit, and durian-type fruits, a misnomer category that included jackfruit and, well, durian. Love of the thorny delicacy durian is quite a phenomenon in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. There are certain species of durian that are more ‘enak’ (delicious) than others. D24 is a popular prized type of durian, with rotund and firm yellow droplets that have the strongest taste. Other types include Mao Shan Wang and Golden Phoenix.
It should be noted that one person’s romance with durian is not representative of another’s - it’s a polarising fruit that is foul-smelling to some and pungent and enticing to others. As someone who enjoys its smell, I could liken it to the smell of salmon for a fish-lover, or that brine-egg combination scent of the sea to nostalgic coastal-dwellers. We discovered durian in a food market in Singapore days before our study tour in Batam began for roughly AU$5 for a quarter of a durian fruit. It’s like a bitter, sweet and creamy cheese and like garlic, you’ll be tasting it for hours after you’ve eaten it. Its texture is much like an avocado.
Upon arriving in Batam, and much to our dismay, we found that durian was not available at our favourite local hypermart, and we had to be satisfied with durian-creme chocolates. It was hardly an adequate substitute. Our second encounter during the week occurred when we were treated to a delicious dinner at a local contractor’s palatial home. As the family was celebrating Ramadan, the dinner meal was served after sundown and was part of the ritual of breaking fast. To the surprise of durian-lovers in the group, durian was featured in the Cendol, a popular dessert drink in Indonesia usually made with coconut milk, jelly and ice. However, that did not satiate our desire for fresh durian fruit.
On one of our last days in Batam, Vivian, Mul and our driver were able to find some cheap, delicious durian sold by a street vendor for the equivalent of AU$3 a kilo. Of course, when word got out we had a picnic on our hands. We had to eat the fruit outside because the smell would be too offensive if we were to open it inside the hotel lobby. In fact, it is customary not to eat durian in public spaces because of the smell is off-putting to many.
For some students, the durian picnic represented their first time trying the king of fruits, and there were mixed opinions on its taste. For me, it was not my first and certainly not my last. To my utter pleasure, at Changi Airport in Singapore there was a giant, illuminated durian installation with a durian-shaped love seat. The airport also had a durian cafe, where they sold durian-flavoured puddings, cakes and ice-creams. It was pure heaven.