Our Very Last Malaysian Durian of 2012

Year of the Durian is counting down. Since we started on January 1st, we officially end on December 31st at midnight. You better believe we'll be eating durian! After our durian vacation at Bao Sheng's Durian Villas in Penang, we had four days to kick it in Kuala Lumpur and do some Christmas shopping, as well as try to sate our durian appetite before heading back to the United States to spend Christmas with our family.

Six Christmas Gifts for Durian Junkies Everywhere

Who else hasn't done their Christmas shopping yet? Apparently everyone in Kuala Lumpur, and that includes Rob and me. During our last few days, we have been racing around trying to find cool, exotic gifts for our families and friends back home in America who probably wouldn't appreciate a gift of our favorite fruit.

Even if our families aren't big fans, come Christmas Eve I'm sure I'm not the only one who has visions of durian dancing in my head. After all, the Malaysian durian season always co-occurs with Christmas, and tales of gluttony abound. Even in the Northern Hemisphere, durian freaks gather around the holidays to enjoy a meal centered around durian, an unconventional replacement for the turkey. It wouldn't surprise me at all if old Kris Kringle himself was a durian fan - after all, durian is like milk and cookies combined into a gloppy natural custard. Here are a six gift ideas for that one (or more) odd person in your life who really, really loves durian. If you are that durian freak, here are a few items you might like to get for yourself with all that lovely Christmas money. And instead of cookies, this year consider sharing some of the durian deliciousness with Santa.

Weekend at the Durian Villas

For the first time in sixty years, Penang had a second durian season this November-December. How lucky are we?  We visited Penang last June and were really impressed with the durian, particularly Bao Sheng's numbingly delicious Red Prawn, which stuck in our minds as possibly the very best durian of the year.

Five countries later, we wondered if that Red Prawn could really hold up to a fresh Musang King, a creamy Filipino Arancillo, or one of those fantastic kampung durians in the mountains of Vietnam. Or what about all the various species of durian? Could the very best zibethinus even hold candle to those sticky, cheesy, peanut-buttery orange graveolens? We had to cut our plans in Borneo a little short to find out, as the Penang season closed on December 15th. What better way to finish a year of durian?

Tenom Checklist

December is nearly halfway gone! Not only is the end of the world coming, but the closing of our Year of the Durian. Eleven and a half months down the durian road, we're winding down our adventures and patching up the missing links in our collection of durians and durians eaten.

Over the weekend we visited the Tenom Agriculture Park and Research Center, where we hoped to find a few more edible durian species and possibly get a taste of the elusive kura-kura durian, which we found in Kalimantan but didn't get to taste as the fruits were immature. Our trip to Tenom was arranged by Tony Lamb, a retired botanist who masterminded the park project and was the person, twenty years ago, who went on jungle expeditions to collect rare wild fruits and other flora to plant in the park. We had to race to get to Tenom in time, as we still were upriver in West Kalimantan. It took three days of solid busing to the Sarawak border and then north through Brunei, but it was totally worth it for Tenom's durian treasures. We not only came into contact with two durians completely new to us, but were fortunate enough to finally taste durian kura-kura.

News: A Death in Sarawak

Death by durian is not an uncommon occurrence. It's not because durians fall on people's heads while they're out running around the orchard at night, although that happens too, but because of an unknown and unstudied complication that arises with over-consumption. Right now news of a durian related death is rocking Sarawak, where it's peak season and durians are selling for as little as $0.20 US. Even for Malaysians, that's dirt cheap and it makes sense that those with a special durian appetite might take advantage of the low prices to pig out. I would.

Finding Peace in Malaysia

The thing I didn't mention about Kalimantan is that while we were still in Putussibau I got the dreaded traveler's stomach woes. After eleven months of constant travel, it had to happen sometime. Dead-ended in Lanjak with no way to see if email responses had turned up any new leads, we decided to skip across the border in Badau and go back to the Malaysian side.

The Malaysian border guard told us he'd seen red-shelled durian in a town called Sri Aman. He wrote it down for me, so we wouldn't get it confused with Serian, another well-known durian town. We were eager to get our hands on some more durio dulcis, and decided to make that our next destination. We didn't know at the time that Sri Aman means "Town of Peace" in Malaysian, which was exactly what we needed.

Durian Kura Kura Found

Cauliflory is a botanical term that refers to plants that flower and fruit from the trunk, woody structures, and roots rather than from new growth. This seems bizarre, but there are actually quite a number of edible fruits that grow this way. Most of them are just as exotic as the concept seems to indicate, with fun sounding names like the jabuticaba, but others are more familiar - like our friend the durian.

All durians are cauliflourus, but one species is particularly famous for the phenomenon. Durio testudinarum (durian kura kura or tortoise durian) doesn't fruit at all from the branches or canopy region, instead forming bulbous globs around the base of the tree so low to the ground that turtles are said to be among those who enjoy it. The species is even less well known than durio dulcis because although botanists consider it one of the 9 edible species, the local people disagree. Still, Rob and I had hopes of finding it, so we traveled to Lanjak - a small town on the edge of the Danau Sentarum National Forest.