Brunei Durian

Although it looks like a blip on the map of Borneo, Brunei is not as tiny as you might think. At over 2,000 square miles, it doesn't even make top 15 of the world's smallest countries. Nevertheless, Rob and I thought it was one country we could miss. It's surrounded on three sides by Sarawak, so we didn't think Brunei could offer anything of durian interest that we couldn't find in bordering Sarawak.

Our decision not to go was solidified when we met a traveler whose reason for going was: "Well, I heard it's really Muslim. Like, really really Muslim."  We don't have anything against Muslims (except the 5 AM morning prayer call - unforgivable) but we've been in Indonesia and Malaysia for almost 6 months. We get the Muslim thing. So we happily crossed Brunei off our list of places to go and focused on researching durian hotspots in Sarawak. But then I came across a study titled "Collection, Establishment, Conservation, and Documentation of Durio Species of Brunei Darussalum" by a Mr. Jumat Haji Alim, and actually managed to get Mr. Jumat to agree to meet with us. Could Brunei hold some durian secrets?

Jungle Durians in Sipitang, Sabah

At last, at last, durians are beginning to fall in Borneo. The season,  a few weeks later than usual, has started!

Sipitang is a small town on the southeastern coast of Sabah, very close to the border of Sarawak and Brunei. Most tourists pass through Sipitang on their way to Long Pasia, a village in the highlands that operates as a touristic display of the Lundayehs, the native people of the Sipitang region. There's not much to see and do in Sipitang itself, unless you are a fruit freak, in which case you will be very happy. Durian, tarap (marang) and cempadak are listed on the Sabah Tourism website as things to enjoy in Sipitang, and we are definitely taking advantage of all the delicious fruit around. But the most exciting thing about Sipitang is the sheer variety of jungle durians being sold at the market, cracking open to reveal the bright yellow, orange, and even the lipstick red flesh!

Sandakan Town Durian and a River Trip

This blog post has been a long time in coming! We didn't mean to leave you all in the dark. For awhile, it seemed that we had nothing interesting to write about, and then we were too busy! We landed in Sabah, Borneo, to discover that durian season had not started yet! Oh noes!  Erratic weather this year means that the durians will be dropping about 3-4 weeks late. Thank you global warming for depriving us of our daily durian.

We still found durian around Kota Kinabalu, at the beach near our hostel in Tanjung Aru and at KK Plaza downtown. The vendors there told us that twice a week they drive the 7 hours to Sandakan, on the east coast, to pick up a load of durian. We were staying a five minute walk away from the airport, so when Rob found tickets for 80 RM each, it was a no-brainer. We bought tickets the night before, and walked across the street and onto an airplane the next morning. After a breezy 45 minute flight, we landed in Sandakan, hungry and hoping for durian. We took a shared taxi to Sandakan Town, and when I spotted a durian vendor just outside the Sandakan airport we became giddy with joy that we were back in the land of durian at last.

How to Open A Durian

The difficulty of opening a durian is legendary and the basis for many jokes. See the extended efforts of the Portlandia crew if you don't believe me. Durians just look impregnable, and many people are so intimidated they don't even try to bring home that first durian. Even among the Asians, being a good durian opener is akin to being able to crush a can in your fist - a casual feat of masculinity.

The truth is that it's really not that hard to open a durian. I can do it without a knife, and I'm a 105 pound girl (see how here). Durians want to be eaten by large mammals - it's how they spread their seeds and ensure reproduction. Given that, durians are built with certain weaknesses, which when exploited can reduce the feat of durian opening to dixie-cup level. Not exactly manly! Of course, part of the fun of eating durian is the struggle, so if you need to fight your durian to enjoy it, go ahead and ignore the following suggestions.

Touchdown in Borneo

The moment has finally arrived - Rob and I are in Borneo.  When I first wrote the word Borneo on our travel itinerary waaay back last November, a little shiver ran up my spine. I'd heard of Borneo, in the way I'd heard of Pangaea and Middle Earth - exotic and very far away in time and space. It was not a place I ever imagined going myself.

I'm happy to report that during our last days in Sri Lanka, we managed to find more durian. It was still straggling in from Gampala City and around the Kandy district. This durian was really, really good. The white flesh was so thick and sticky it was almost hard to swallow, with a rich coffee aftertaste. After two weeks sans durian (oh, the horror!) Rob and I went a little crazy and ate durian for three meals in a row. Whoa, I know!  We are definitely putting Sri Lanka on our list of top durian locations to visit again. I've  put up a photo overview of our durian days in Sri Lanka on our Facebook Page. So long Sri Lanka, you've been good to us.

Philippines Durio Graveolens

While enjoying our last week of Sri Lanka, Rob and I are gearing up for our venture into Borneo, the island where durian originated. Around 30 species of durian can be found in Borneo, including up to 9 edible species (there is some debate over species differentiation). Our goal is to taste them all.

Many people have been emailing me about the picture of the red and yellow fleshed durians I posted on our facebook page while we were in the Philippines. So this post is dedicated to durio graveolens. I can't wait to taste them again in Borneo!