Monday, March 2, 2009

Singapore-Vietnam Joint Issue

Another glimpse of my purchases from Singpost last week. This is a Singapore-Vietnam Joint Issue miniature sheet featuring the "King of fruits", Durian and the ever-popular, Dragon fruit. It was issued on 18th Nov 2008.

The first stamp depicts durian (my favourite fruit). Widely known and revered in Southeast Asia as the "King of Fruits", the fruit is distinctive for its large size, unique odour, and formidable thorn-covered husk. The fruit can grow up to 30 centimetres (12 in) long and 15 centimetres (6 in) in diameter, and typically weighs one to three kilograms (2 to 7 lb). Its shape ranges from oblong to round, the colour of its husk green to brown, and its flesh pale-yellow to red, depending on the species.

The edible flesh emits a distinctive odour, strong and penetrating even when the husk is intact. Regarded by some as fragrant, others as overpowering and offensive, the smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust.

Writing in 1856, the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace provides a much-quoted description of the flavour of the durian: “ The five cells are silky-white within, and are filled with a mass of firm, cream-coloured pulp, containing about three seeds each. This pulp is the edible part, and its consistence and flavour are indescribable. A rich custard highly flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes. Then there is a rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy. It is neither acid nor sweet nor juicy; yet it wants neither of these qualities, for it is in itself perfect. It produces no nausea or other bad effect, and the more you eat of it the less you feel inclined to stop. In fact, to eat Durians is a new sensation worth a voyage to the East to experience. ... as producing a food of the most exquisite flavour it is unsurpassed.”

While Wallace cautions that "the smell of the ripe fruit is certainly at first disagreeable", later descriptions by westerners are more graphic. British novelist Anthony Burgess writes that eating durian is "like eating sweet raspberry blancmange in the lavatory." Chef Andrew Zimmern compares the taste to "completely rotten, mushy onions." Anthony Bourdain, while a lover of durian, relates his encounter with the fruit as thus: "Its taste can only be described as...indescribable, something you will either love or despise. ...Your breath will smell as if you'd been French-kissing your dead grandmother."


The odour has led to the fruit's banishment from certain hotels and public transportation in Southeast Asia.

Sign forbidding durians on Singapore's Mass Rapid Transit (railway trains)
Singapore's Esplanade building, nicknamed "The Durian" (a 2,000 seat theatre for the performing arts)

The second stamp shows the Dragon fruit; a tropical fruit which is very popular in Southeast Asia. Vietnam is the main commercial producer of dragon fruits in this region. The fruit, apart from being refreshing and tasty, has loads of vitamin C and is said to aid digestion.The plant is a climbing cactus vine that grows well in dry areas. Because of its epiphytic nature, it grows best in soil with a high level of organic materials. The flowers are white and large, measuring 30 cm long or more. They are ornate and produce a sweet fragrance when in bloom. The flowers bloom for one night only. Pitahaya plants can have between four to six fruiting cycles in one year. It can be propagated by seed or by stem cuttings.

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