I was at Jelutong Market with some friends when it started raining.
The sky was dark, and it looked like our plan to hike up Penang Hill wasn’t going to happen.
Instead, we decided to get our exercise scurrying from durian stall to durian stall between bursts of showers. We ended up visiting (and eating at) four durian stalls in downtown Georgetown within a few hours.
What better way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon?
But I knew that most people who go to Penang get their durian in Georgetown, and I wanted to find out where.
With four of the most popular durian eateries within walking distance of each other, an afternoon tour sounded like a great way to compare the stalls and get a real feel for the durian culture in Penang’s largest city.
I hope this review helps you choose a stall to try if you find yourself hungry in Georgetown. Remember that these stalls are seasonal.
Our first stop was Ah Teik’s Durian Stall in downtown Georgetown. We were hungry and excited.
So I was expecting the place to be hopping. I just didn’t expect it to quite so small and crowded.
The stall had a great selection of durians and other fruit, but only three tables under arranged under beach umbrellas. With the rain and drizzle, it felt a bit cramped and humid
It was so crowded that we ended up sharing a small table with another group.
We thought this was pretty awesome, and a sign that we were about to get some really good durian. The stall is popular for a reason, right?
|Sharing a table at Ah Teik’s Durian Stall|
When the folks across the table received their order of a wrinkly, yellow-cream durian called Butter, we immediately knew what to order.
It looked amazing, and since none of us had tasted a Butter yet, it was the obvious choice (I later tasted it again at the All-You-Can-Eat Durian Buffet).
|A Butter looking delicious|
With all the people hustling about, just getting the Durian Seng’s attention was difficult. When at last my friend Ryan put in the order, the server hacked open a durian, unceremoniously plopped it on the table and whisked away.
We stared at our durian, uncertain what to do.
Ours was not the deliciously plump, almost caramelized-looking confection that our table-mates were pounding with joy.
The problem was that while the bottom two pieces were the perfect luscious ripeness, the rest of the durian was as unripe as potato. What I would plaintively call kang in Thai.
In Malaysia, if you’re durian looks like this you should be able to return the whole thing.
|See the unripe pieces?|
But when at last we pointed out the problem, he gave us only half of a durian. Which was a smaller fruit than the one we originally bought.
It was delicious, every bite as caramel creamy as it looked. But it seemed like the servers didn’t have the time or patience to try communicating with some durian loving ang mohs, and they didn’t seem to care about making sure we were given good durian.
So after only one (plus a half) durians, we left.
Luckily only one block away was another durian stall. It didn’t seem to have a name, but when I asked the female Durian Seng she pointed at this cardboard sign that said “Musang King.”
So I guess that’s the name.
This stall was quite a bit more spacious than Ah Teik’s, made more cavernous by the fact we were alone except for one Indian guy tucking in to a D24 with gusto.
Unfortunately, they were out of stock of most of the durians.
The lady seng seemed impatient with our questions. “What you want? What you want?” she kept repeating. Maybe she didn’t believe a group of Westerners really wanted to eat durian!
She pulled out a Green Skin, assuring us it would taste like dark chocolate.
It was creamy and flavorful, and we ate it happily. But it wasn’t bitter, unless you consider peanut M&M’s bitter.
As we ate another shower passed and we were glad to be under the solid cover of the patio overhang, instead of hovering uncomfortably under the spotty shelter of beach umbrellas. It was a comfortable setting to sit and watch the traffic of Jalan Macalister splash through the rain.
But we still had more durian stalls to visit, as tempting as it was to buy another we moved on again.
Still hungry. Still on the durian prowl.
3. Jalan Anson Stall
Location- On Jalan Anson near the corner of Jalan Dunlop
The Jalan Anson stall was a bit further out of downtown then the other stalls, making a great excuse to stretch our legs and work off some of the durian calories.
By the time we arrived, I was pretty hungry. The air was thick with the juicy-fruit aroma of cempedaks, and even though we were on a durian mission I was tempted to derail and eat some cempedak instead.
|Jalan Anson Stall|
But it looked like they had a great selection of durians, so I held off the temptation.
It was quite a bit larger than the other stalls, but still busy with durian feasters. We ducked through the drips and drizzles leaking from the haphazard arrangement of tarps and umbrellas, and found a dry seat.
The durian servers were a flurry of energy, hopping from one table to another. In between they busily prepped and packed durians for take away.
|Packing durian for take away|
So although it was frustratingly difficult to get the server’s attention, I understood and patiently waited my turn to request a bitter durian. The vendor immediately began searching through the pile, rejecting most of the durians. It seemed like a good sign.
Then with a flourish, he set a durian on our table and stepped back. All three of us looked at each other in dismay.
|My friends being good sports|
The durian flesh was smooth and waxy. It looked like a durian from Thailand.
“This one isn’t going to be bitter,” I explained.
“Yes, bitter,” he argued. We went back and forth a few times, until we were persuaded to taste it.
It had the strange, fruity sweetness that I can’t stand in a durian, but that my friend Durianrider says tastes like artificial cherry. But I think even this durian would have been too artificially sweet for him.
It was certainly too sweet for me. Very grudgingly, the seller exchanged the durian for what he said was a Red Prawn, for the cost of 24 RM ($$7.44 USD) per kilo.
The Red Prawn was a major improvement over the first durian, but as far as Red Prawns go we were not impressed.
Maybe we were just spoiled from spending the last two weeks on Bao Sheng’s Durian Farm eating fresh-dropped organic Red Prawns.
But I was also still disgruntled about how difficult it was to return the obviously sub-par durian. Arguing with a durian seller is something I never want to do.
We paid for the expensive Red Prawn and moved on to the last durian stall of the day.
4. 81 Durian Stall
Location – Across the street from the Tune Hotel on the corner of Lorong Selamat and Jalan Burma.
Contact Information – Tel: 012-551-7381/ 012-288-7381
The rain had mostly stopped by the time we got to our last durian stall of the day. There are more durian stalls in Georgetown, but we had reached our financial and gustatory limits.
Luckily, we had saved best for last.
The moment we approached the stall we were welcomed with a huge grin by Mr. Wong’s brother, who was watching the stall for the day.
He asked us where we were from (many places) and kept up a lively conversation with us about the US, the weather, and his durians. His great mood immediately dispelled my residual feelings of annoyance from the last stall.
The stall wasn’t empty, but somehow it felt quiet. The red roof gave it a warm feeling, while providing a large, dry, comfortable area to eat.
It was late afternoon by the time we arrived, and they didn’t have very many durians left. There were still five or six varieties, which one of the workers kindly pointed out to us and told us the prices.
There’s something relaxing about an affordable durian.
Especially when it’s a good one.
The D14 was beautiful. Wet and wrinkly, it had a subtle orange glow that was a feast for the eyes. It was still slightly too sweet for my preferences, but that’s typical for the variety.
Finally full and happy, we said thank you to the durian sengs at 81 Durian Stall and made the final walk to our hotel.
Georgetown has a number of good options for enjoying a durian meal. All of the durians we ate were fresh, and none were too watery or had a vinegar taste.
However, the stalls were expensive and you’ll need to bring plenty of cash to fill your belly.
It was a reminder of just how hard it can be to buy a good durian, especially when there’s that much money on the line, and why I’ve kept up this blog to help people know what to expect and how to get it.
Someone who had never eaten a durian might have come away from a few of these stalls thinking they didn’t like durian. This is a sad thing to me.
The sellers might not have had time or energy to pick us out a good durian. It was a Sunday, and the stalls were very crowded. And since our tour was spontaneous, we didn’t call ahead to make reservations (probably a good idea, especially on a weekend!)
Even so, we really enjoyed our durian tour of Georgetown. It was a great excuse to see a little bit more of the city by foot, and we did get some pretty good durian.
Still, if I’m ever peckish for durian and don’t want to try something special, I’ll probably head to either the Eat-All-You-Can Buffet or my favorite stall in front of Gama Supermarket.