The durian burger, a journey of discovery
I am game for all things durian. Durian egg tarts are delicious. Homemade durian ice cream is such a sinful treat, especially eaten with crispy kuih kapit (love letters). Passion Heart Cafe bakes one-of-a-kind Fresh Cream Durian Cake; it is a sponge cake layered with fresh cream and creamy durian paste, topped with durian kaya (coconut jam). This is one of my favourite cakes at the cafe.
During the durian season, I would also make Nyonya kaya using quality durian flesh. The outcome is such a delectable treat, especially with the kaya on a slice of warm, toasted Bengali bread. Deep-fried durian in a crispy batter is also a great afternoon snack. My good friend's mother, Madam Leong, makes the most amazing baked durian mooncakes. Every year, I look forward to receiving her beautiful mooncakes that melt in the mouth. Durian has also made its way into endless offerings like pastries, kuihs, crêpe, pancakes, Panna Cotta, soufflés, mochi, 3-in-1 coffee and milk teas, as well as whiskey; it even flavours condoms.
With the mad durian craze, one traditional recipe tried and tested that is loved by many locals is pulut durian (glutinous rice with durian smothered with santan – a thick coconut milk sauce). The ideal durian for this dish should have sweet and bulbous flesh. Although some would add sugar to sweeten the sauce, you could opt to grate fine shavings of gula melaka (palm sugar) over the dish prior to serving. The pinch of salt added to the santan sauce further enhances its "lemakness", complementing brilliantly the creamy durian flesh. This is one satisfying and hearty meal that will keep you feeling full for hours.
Sambal tempoyak, a Malay condiment made from chillies and fermented durian has a legion of local fans, although it is an acquired taste. It is enjoyed with ulams (local herbs and greens). Durian fried rice is something I have yet to try as well as the durian burger (at least until recently).
Nizam Burger in Relau is my regular burger joint. Nizam Ismail started his burger stall in 2000. He slices the burger patties in halves, cooking them thoroughly before adding a splash of Worcester sauce and a good dusting of pepper. Nizam uses only the home-grown and ever-popular Ramli burger patties. The quality and taste go down well with the locals.
Nizam's tender loving care makes his uncomplicated offerings delectably scrumptious, winning over a legion of loyal customers. My favourite order is his Burger Special, chicken or beef patty in an egg parcel topped with cheese. One lovely touch that Nizam adds to his offerings is baked beans. The combination of Worcester sauce, pepper and baked beans compliments the flavours in the burgers beautifully.
This durian season, next to Nizam's burger truck was a durian seller. I asked Nizam if he was game to create a durian burger and he obliged. We discussed how we were going to proceed with this creation, since Nizam in his 22 years of making hundreds of thousands of burgers, has not made a durian burger before. We decided not to add cheese, chilly sauce and mayonnaise as these would drown the flavour of the durian flesh. The creamy durian flesh would act as the sauce of the burger.
Next was to select the durian that would be the star of the burger. I decided on the Ang Heah (Red Prawn) variety as the flesh is liam chooi (Hokkien for describing the lip-smacking smooth, creamy and sticky-dry texture) and has a sweet taste that is extremely enjoyable! The durian vendor was accommodating enough to even deseed two of the durian pods. The seeds were very small hence there was ample plenty of flesh, enough for my experimental recipe.
Nizam started with toasting a bun. Onto the bun, he added a generous helping of durian flesh, then topped it with a leaf of green coral lettuce, thin slices of cucumber and a heap of shredded cabbage. When the grilled chicken patty was ready, it was added to the burger. To finish it off, more durian flesh topped the burger. This towering burger, looking handsome, was a creative invention ready to be relished.
I took my own sweet time to enjoy this burger and to understand what was taking place in my mouth with every bite. The aroma was definitely all durian. The taste? It had the sweet and creamy flavours of the durian, salty and smoky flavours of the patty and crunchy texture from the vegetables. There were many things happening in every bite. Although it was a new set of flavours I enjoyed, I would have much preferred to relish the two separately – first the burger (sans the durian) and then the durian itself. The many distinct flavours did not really harmonise well. Coming from a Chinese Peranakan household, I am much aware that the balance of flavours in cooking is key to a winning recipe. Here, although I love durians and burgers, I realised it is better to enjoy them separately. I reckon this would be the same experience with durian fried rice.
Having said that, some varied flavours can harmonise well – sea salt flakes on chocolate ganache, stir-fried prawns with salted egg yolks, New York strip steak with spicy coffee rub, Earl Grey tea ice cream and herb-infused summer cocktails.
Although durian works well in kaya (coconut jam), cakes and pastries, I would be quite surprised if it can be equally taste-worthy in soup, curries, meat dishes or grilled items. I would think twice before smothering my steak with durian before grilling it.
I had lots of fun during this durian burger journey. I learn something new everyday!
Relau (in front of Kedai Kopi Golden Lake), Penang
Open from 6:00 pm till late
T: +6012-474 1824
Photographed and written by Adrian Cheah
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5 July 2022