Penang durians, considered King of Fruits, are famous throughout Malaysia for their pleasant taste and aroma. It is no wonder that Penang people who work elsewhere in Malaysia return during durian seasons, bringing with them friends to enjoy this wonderful experience of durian feasts, usually held in one of the many durian orchards located on the southwest side of Penang Island, centering on the town of Balik Pulau. |
On this particular AsiaExplorers website, instead of describing yet another destination, let me introduce you to some of the best durians in Malaysia. The best durians in Malaysia come from the south and southwest hilly regions of Penang Island, from places like Balik Pulau, Sungai Pinang and Pantai Acheh, where the fertile hill soil, temperature and rainfall makes it ideal for durian cultivation. While I can't say I am a seasoned connoisseur of durians, I can say I am enjoying myself tasting good durians. Good durians are like fine wine. Those who know durians will tell you - as I would - that every durian from every durian tree tastes slightly different. Whether they are sweet or bittersweet, you can tell the difference between good durians and the also-runs. As such, durians are not like any other fruits, certainly not comparable to apples, papayas or mangosteen.
"That thory thing." So goes its name in Malay. All across the Malay archipelago in Asia, the durian reigns supreme as King of Fruits. An acquired taste, the durian is to Southeast Asia what foie gras, truffles and caviar are to the West. Western description of durian almost always contains words like "smelly", "damp socks", "odoriferous", and other unpleasant adjectives to pin down what many in the Malay archipelago would describe as fragrant aroma. Yes, aroma. To many Asians, few fruit smells as nice, and I for one can't for the world of me compare it to smelly socks.
Appreciating the durian
Durians should preferably be taken fresh, that is to say, direct from the fruit, as soon as it is opened. That's when the aroma is strongest. Yes indeed, to truly appreciate the durian, you need to appreciate its aroma as well. Refrigerated durians simply can't compare.
Depending on the texture of the flesh, you can bite on it, chew it, suck it or lick it. Some are as soft as molten chocolate, while others are as hard as cheese. From my experience, I find that Malaysians generally prefer the soft variety that drops from the tree whereas the Thais prefer their durians hard, often plucked. As such, soft durians fetch a higher price than hard ones.
The Taste of Durian
The taste of durians ranges from sweet to bitter, and in the case of durians, bitter does not immediate translate as bad. Some are dry, others creamy, like ice cream or chocolate. Good durians usually have a substantial amount of flesh, or body, between the skin and the seed. The flesh could be separated from the seed by the inner skin which itself is as tasty as the flesh.
The Durian Flesh
The appearance takes second place to the taste, but is still an important consideration, and goes some way in determining the price of the durians. Golden or orange flesh are the highest in demand, and secures the highest price, especially if it is accompanied with a great taste. However, some of the tastiest durians are not those with the darkest colour, but can be almost creamy white.
A Durian Feast
If you are fortunate to attend a feast of branded durians, do not gorge on the fruits. You are wasting good durians, and after consuming from over six or seven different fruits, you are unlikely to be able to differentiate or remember the taste of one from the other. You wouldn't even recall the name of your favourite. To learn the different fruits you are tasting, this is my recommendation of what you should do:
Get a plate, cutlery, a bowl of water to wash your fingers, tissue paper, drinking water, notepad and pen. Ensure that the vendor identifies the durian as he opens it for you. Write down its name on your notepad and number it. Transfer one piece to the plate. Don't start eating yet. Wait till the vendor has opened all the variety of durians and identified them - naturally you'd need sufficient participants to be able to taste that many durians, so it's a good idea to attend one of AsiaExplorers Durian Feasts. We have held regular durian feasts since 2004, and although many want to join our feasts, I limit the number to just about 35 or so per trip.
By the time the vendor has opened all the different durians, you should have a good selection on your plate, all identified and numbered. Now you can start enjoying your durian experience. Durians should be taken with your fingers. Try a bit of one, then wash your fingers, dry them, and try another. In this way, you can tell the taste of different durians apart. Jot notes to help you remember the difference. You will quickly learn what type of durian you like, whether the sweet or bittersweet ones. Some have the slightly fermented aroma of liquor to it. These are all good durians that should be appreciated at its fullest.
Good Durian Pages
I am happy with those who have used my photographs but have attributed the source. Here are those which I have found:
If you like to be added to this list, send me an email after you have created your webpage or blog entry. Your article has to use the photos below and also place a link to either AsiaExplorers (www.asiaexplorers.com) or Penang Travel Tips (www.penang-traveltips.com)
The following is a selection of branded durians which I photographed since 2004. They include the durians photographed during the annual AsiaExplorers Durian Feasts.
The Kim Hoo or Gold Fish Durian comes from a plantation in Balik Pulau, but I came across it at the Jelutong Market on 12 June, 2010, where I bought for RM13.
"Number Eleven" is a very popular durian in the 70's. It has creamy yellow flesh with a pleasant taste and a subtle smell. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2004.
The D604 was first cultivated by the late Mr. Teh Hew Hong of Sungai Pinang, Balik Pulau. The flesh is quite sweet, and has some "body" to it as the seed is small. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2004.
This durian originates in Sungai Pinang in Balik Pulau. The flesh has a bittersweet taste to it, with a touch of sourness. The one that I documented is a bit hard. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2004.
The flesh is darker than D600, like chrome yellow. Also slightly hard. Crispy, but the smell is not very strong.
Ang Sim (Red Heart)
Ang Sim is a durian with flesh which is quite soft and very sweet, and dark yellow in colour. It also has a nice aroma. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2004 and again in 2006.
This durian takes the name of the late Mr Lau Khun Poh, who first budded it. Khun Poh has beautiful orangy flesh with a slightly bitter-sweet taste and a heavy aroma. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2004.
Hor Loh (Water Gourd Durian)
The flesh of the Hor Loh is very soft, dry and quite bitter. It has a sharp smell to it. Hor Loh was first cultivated at the Brown orchard of Sungai Ara. It got its name from its appearance resembling a "Hor Lor" pumpkin. If the durian hits the ground hard when it falls, the flesh tends to be bitter thereafter. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2004 and again in 2006.
Ang Heh (Red Prawn Durian)
Ang Heh originates from Pondok Upeh, Balik Pulau, and has a round-shaped husk. The orange reddish flesh is highly aromatic, very soft with a bitter-sweet taste. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2004 and again in 2006.
Xiao Hung (Little Red Durian)
Xiao Hung, whose name means "Little Red One," originates in Sungai Pinang, Balik Pulau. The flesh has a bittersweet taste to it, with a touch of sourness. The one that I tasted for this write-up is a bit hard. There are only one or two seeds per section, but the flesh is thick. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2004.
Yah Kang (Centipede Durian)
Yah Kang is one of my favourite durians. Although its flesh is whitish, the taste is superb, milky, like very sweet, melting chocolate. The name "yah kang" means centipede, and accounts for the number of centipedes found at the foot of the tree, hence giving it the rather unusual name. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2004 and again in 2006.
Bak Eu (Pork Fat Durian)
Bak Eu has a slightly acidic aroma. The flesh is whitish while the taste is quite bitter but nice. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2004.
The following are some of the durians I tried the first time at Peng Siew Durian orchard in Titi Serong, Balik Pulau, on the 2006 AsiaExplorers Durian Feast, on 17 June, 2006.
D17 is dark cream flesh. The taste is slightly dry but sweet. It is a tasty durian. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2006.
This durian is gets its unusual name because it looks like two durians joined together, one big and one small. When split open, you almost thought the two halves belong to two different durians. Coupling has whitish flesh which is slightly dry but tastes good. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2006.
Ooi Kyau (Tumeric Durian)
The name Ooi Kyau (tumeric) describes the colour of the bright yellow flesh of this durian. It is very sweet and tasty. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2006.
Chaer Phoy (Green Skin Durian)
Chaer Phoy is shaped like a small canteloupe. The skin is bright green, giving it the name which means "green skin". Chaer Phoy has creamy white flesh which is a bit dry, not too sweet but tasty. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2006.
Ang Jin (Red Yoke Durian)
As the name suggests, Ang Jin Durian has deep orange flesh. It is very sweet and tasty. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2006.
Lin Fong Jiau
This durian is named after Lin Fong Jiau, aka Mrs Jackie Chan. I wonder whether it is indicative of the relationship of the celebrity couple, for Lin Fong Jiau is a bittersweet durian, for too bitter for my liking. The flesh is whitish and wet. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2006.
The following durian is what I tried the first time at Bao Sheng orchard in Titi Kerawang, on the 2007 AsiaExplorers Durian Feast, on 24 May, 2007.
The D15 has yellow yellow and its taste is sweet with a slight trace of bitterness. The flesh is quite substantial.
2006 Durian Feast - Bao Sheng Durian Orchard
Group shot of Tim and TS Chang, the orchard owner, with AsiaExplorers members at the viewing platform at Bao Sheng Durian Orchard, Teluk Bahang. AsiaExplorers first documented this durian in 2006.
1 July, 2006
40 members and friends of AsiaExplorers had a great time at the Bao Sheng Durian Orchard in Sungai Pinang, Penang. This is the second durian feast we organised this year, and it so much interest that I had to limit the number of participants. The orchard has a viewing platform from where we are able to get a panoramic view of the western part of Penang Island, from Pantai Acheh to Balik Pulau.
Before we began feasting on the durians, Mr TS Chang, the owner of the orchard, gave us course in appreciating good durians. He told us, for example, how we should hold the durian to smell it. The best spot to smell the durian, said Mr Chang, is on the top portion, not the rear. (If the durian is earth, then the best smell is where England or Japan are, not Australia or Antartica). Similarly, when eating durians, go for the section close to the stem, not the rear end, as the top flesh is tastiest. Mr Chang also taught us that the biggest durians are not necessarily the tastiest. To enjoy good durians, eat those from the older trees, and these are fully matured in taste and aroma, not unlike vintage wine. Indeed no other fruit in Malaysia is discussed as thoroughly as the durian, where specific durian trees are regarded as family heirlooms.
Very soon we were digging into the durians and eating to our hearts content. Nevermind what has just been taught, all is forgotten when the fruits are opened and forty pairs of hands reach out for the fruits. Some are sweet, some bittersweet, some not so tasty, there was so many types to try.
After the feast Mr Chang took us on a tour of the orchard, showing us how the durian trees are taken care so that mildew don't infect them, as this can easily destroy the trees. Before we left for home, Mr Chang gave us big handfuls of rambutans for the road. It was indeed a fine outing, and I look forward to organising it again the next durian season. In the meantime, please refer to the AsiaExplorers durian page for the details about the different durians.
Participants of the durian trip are now encouraged to tell us about their experience in this feast by completing the "Add a Comment" section below.
AsiaExplorers - now that's what I call living!
My Durian Links
- Map of Durian Farms in Penang
- 2008 Durian Feast
- 28 June 2008 Durian Feast Report
- Durians By Name
- Durian, in The Flowering Garden
Mr TS Chang of Bao Sheng Durian Orchard, at far left, giving AsiaExplorers members a lesson in identifying and appreciating good durians.