Because of how strongly aromatic or repulsively pungent durian beginners can find the smell of durians, a word of wisdom often goes around that newbies should try something more subtle before going into the more guilt-ridden heavy duty cultivars.
This is one proven way to slowly nudge people who’ve never tasted durians to the delectable world of palatable enlightenment.
Because durian connoisseurs just know in good faith that even for those who find the smell of durians revolting, many just have to get past that slightly challenging induction to realise why this fruit is sometimes known as the 9th wonder of the world.
It’s like crossing a moat to reach the other side where the promise land is.
I’m not someone who find durian smell sickening. So I don’t really know how it must feel like to eat something that many describe as smelling like vomit mixed in crap. But I do know many people, especially westerners, who fall in love with the king of fruits after getting past that moat.
It’s a little like cheese. Some people don’t realise how delicious it is until they try it for the first time. They start with a slice offered by someone, usually the type commonly found in supermarkets. And then move on to the premium ones as their taste for it starts to be refined.
Some people don’t find durians smelly. But loathe the strong lingering aroma that it brings and would go crazy trying to rid themselves of the smell. Thus, avoiding them altogether.
Which is why it is often suggested that rookies start with cultivars that are less in-your-face in terms of flavour and intrusiveness.
Hor lor is one of those durian varieties frequently recommended to beginners.
The name hor lor is a Hokkien pronunciation of the word 葫芦 which translates to water gourd, or more commonly termed as calabash in the western English speaking world. It also has the alias labu which refers to the gourd in Malay.
It is a cultivar that has a strong enough taste that does not shortchange durian’s reputation, it’s not heavy on the bitterness side to cause your face to wrinkle, and pretty affordable to the masses.
Sort of like how McDonald’s and KFC is a safe introduction to the world of fast food. They hit a sweet spot in terms of tastes that cater to the masses without going too extreme into the uncharted.
Most locals would agree that hor lor durian originates from Penang island on land owned by the famous historical figure David Brown. But skeptical durian academics would contend that the ancestral mother tree cannot be identified.
Most probably it has succumbed to old age. Yes old trees do die of natural death.
The legend is that there were actually 2 authentic parent trees of hor lor located in the Bukit Sungai Ara area close to the Dragon Tortoise temple (玄武宫). One much bigger than the other. Even though they are both gone, farmers were able to graft branches from both trees to clone hor lor. Bigger hor lors we find today in the market would have originated from the bigger tree and smaller ones would have originated from the smaller tree.
Features of hor lor durians
The size of hor lor is typically medium to large. It definitely is not considered a small durian. Large ones can easily be misidentified as Monthong.
The reason for the bottle gourd-related name is that the shape of the durian is typically like an hour glass figure.
If this sexy shape is not obvious from looking at the fruit’s exterior, it becomes much clearer when you crank open the husk. The curves of the husk’s depth between the outer husk and the seed pods should reveal a calabash shape.
Experts might liken this feature to those of the green skin cultivar.
The spikes are dense with no uniform pattern. Sort of like a stylish crew cut that has been gelled up in a messy fashion.
And the seams where the sections meet can be opened up has a brown observable line. Showing you exactly where to target. Many would consider this a perk of some sort.
An odd feature is that the spikes are curved at the tip almost as if they are being blown all over place by the wind. You might find a hook on occasions.
At the bottom of the husk, you’d find a small star shaped depression. This is made up of spikes that seem like they have been flattened into the star shape. It is unlike the musang king where the large star is actually shaped by a bald area.
At the rim where the spikes meet the stem, the spikes curve inwards towards the stem as if they are being flattened.
As you open the husk, it reveals fruitlets that are typical yellow in colour. Nothing extravagant like black thorn, unique like red prawn, or pale like sultan king. Just typical yellow as you know it.
However, premium hor lor that dropped off old trees can have flesh that spots majestic gold.
This is a durian with meat that one would consider slightly sweet and slightly bitter. Maybe a little sweeter than it is bitter. Which is also a big reason why it’s neutral stance in terms of flavor is recommended to relatively new durianers.
The slightly dry texture feels like peanut butter but less sticky. A little chewy like how you’d feel when eating cempedek. Definitely not one for those who will only go for non-sticky creamy flesh.
A tougher and harder layer of skin lies between the flesh and the seed, making it easy to fully detach the edible part.
In any case, the fibrous flesh makes it feel like you are eating more than it actually is.
You can sometimes taste a hint of chocolate and numbness.
However, this is a cultivar that has a reputation for it’s taste varying with the quality of the harvest.
Meaning that a bad year in terms of the weather for durian cultivation can mean fruits that don’t taste like how consumers expect it to.
This inconsistency is a big reason why it is not as popular as other cultivars even though premium labu fallen from old trees is definitely no slouch in terms of taste.
For example, the size of the seeds can vary greatly between hor lors. Some are huge and some are as small and flat like musang king’s. So like centipede, you don’t really know what you are going to get.
However, many veterans would attest with a high degree of certainty that smaller ones would usually come with the small seeds. But the bigger ones don’t necessarily come with big seeds. Those with a bulging more rounded shape tend to have big seeds inside. Big durian fruits that are more elongated instead of bulging have a high possibility of having smaller seeds.
Hor lor harvest season
Hor lor is actually not easy to find in durian stalls. This is due to limited supply just like in the case for gang hai.
But they are not as high in demand as the usual suspects like golden phoenix.
Saying that, this is a variant that usually enjoys the most exposure near the closing time of durian stalls. Because the popular cultivars are all sold out and there is finally prominent shelf space available for hor lor.
You won’t find people curling up in a fetal position in their sleep suffering from hor lor withdrawal symptoms.
But it is a popular choice as a more affordable fix for those needing to satisfy their durian cravings.
The bumper harvest stock usually arrives from June to July.
And if you want to grab one from a premium batch, you might have to go down to Penang to secure it as they seldom make it far from the source before being bought up. Those that end up in Singapore are seldom the best grade.