I’ve known for years that Ranau town hosts a durian festival. I’ve just never been able to figure out when.
It’s frustrating. So Ranau has remained on the back burner of my durian crazed mind, a geographical tease with the strong promise of some interesting durians and a dominant Dusun culture that I’d bused through but never found time to explore.
When we found ourselves with an extra afternoon after our half-hike up Mount Kinabalu, I knew exactly where I wanted to go. I was finally going to see what was up durian-wise in Ranau.
And it was awesome.
Ranau is a small town that sits 3,800 feet (1,176 meters) high in the mountains of interior Sabah. On a clear day the rows of shop houses and pines sit under the shadow of Mount Kinabalu.
The rest of the time the hills are partially obscured by shifting veils of fog. It’s beautiful, and like Mount Kinabalu, reminded me a lot of springtime in Oregon. Maybe it was the pines.
It’s an unlikely setting for one of the biggest durian producing regions in Sabah, made even more incongruent by the area’s other major crop: cabbage. The day that Jess and I rolled into Ranau, the neighboring town of Kundasan was congested with revelers preparing for the annual Cabbage Festival.
I couldn’t imagine what kind of activities take place at a cabbage festival, so I looked it up and found this cabbage cowboy from the Porter Cabbage Festival in New York. Fascinating and absurd. I’d love to go someday.
If many people were in town for the Cabbage Festival, not many people were staying in Ranau. In fact, if you Google search Ranau hotels, Google acts like there are no places to stay in Ranau Town. All listings are for the nearby Park Headquarters or the Poring Hot Springs.
Even Wikitravels let me down. Apparently nobody has stayed the night in Ranau, which is really their loss.
We found two hotels just across the street from the fruit market, Pasar Terbuka Pekan Ranau.
We could have pitched excess fruit seeds from the bedroom window and hit the colorful beach umbrellas lining the front of the market. Or more likely, since neither one of us has great aim, we’d had hit one of the vehicles crammed so densely along the street that we didn’t get a peak of the market’s offerings until we’d squeezed between the trucks and were standing with fruit piled at our feet.
The pick up truck full of durian was a good sign of what we were about to find.
If you want to spend the night in Ranau, the two small hotels are the Rafflesia Inn and the Ranau Country Lodge. We opted for the Country Lodge, where 60 RM bought us twin beds, a private bathroom, and zipping fast wi-fi.
The Durian Scene
The market was small but plentiful, piles upon piles of durians tumbling into the narrow aisles. Women sat like colorful islands in a durian sea, processing the fruits onto styrofoam trays or into buckets to make tempoyak, while men roamed between them counting baskets and shifting the heavy loads.
It was the best kind of market. It was so packed to bursting with interesting fruits the market spread into the street and busy with people buying and selling durians and other wild fruits, all of whom met us with startled smiles.
There are six people in the photo above. Can you spot them all?
|Terap – Artocarpus odoratissimus|
My Other Favorite Fruit – Terap
I was excited about the durian, but the first thing to catch my eye was these teraps. We hadn’t seen any yet this trip, and I couldn’t wait for Jess to taste them.
Teraps are probably my other favorite of fruits sometimes banned on public transportation. Rob and I got caught taking one on the airplane once, and had to devour it on the floor just behind the x-ray machine.
When ripe, you simply break them open by placing your hands on either side and use your thumbs to gently pull apart the velcro-like hairs.
|The luscious insides of a Sabah terap|
The hairs are enough like velcro that they will stick to your clothing.
But inside… rapture. Each of the succulent white pods is juicy with a heady vanilla aroma that is both creamy and light at the same time.
The most satisfying way to eat them is to peel off the hairs leaving the pods attached to the core. Hold the stem and bite off the pods, filling your mouth with lusciousness. This local lady had the right idea, gathering the small smooth seeds in her cheeks and nonchalantly spitting them stuccato-style into a waste basket at her feet.
Jess was in love. I contentedly “I told you so”ed as we munched, reliving my own appreciation for the smelly Filipina Queen of Fruits. But after polishing off a terap or two, we were ready to move into durian.
After all, we’d been hiking all morning and were hungry. And there was a new kid on the street.
Durio Oxleyanus – Sukang
I spotted these Sukang Durians (Durio oxleyanus) the moment we stepped into the market. They were far bigger than the ones Rob and I ate in Tenom. I couldn’t remember if I liked them or not. I remembered them being a little too sweet and bland.
So I didn’t know what to tell Jess. We decided to start with two.
When we opened them up, my prejudice vanished. Oh my.
Who says wild fruits aren’t as tasty as their cultivated ilk? I really don’t understand why more people don’t grow these.
They were first discovered in durian-crazy Penang.
The Sukangs were perfectly ripe, each pod as creamy and wrinkly as any kampung in Kuala Lumpur. But the flavor was so much better. Smooth and rich, with no hint of wateriness or that chemical, acrid aftertaste that sometime accompanies a low quality durian. These were pure milk chocolate.
Durio Kinabaluensis – Again!
As I’d rummaged through the Sukang pile, I noticed a basket of these bright yellow durians. (Right next to more terap! Mmmmm.)
They looked like the Durio kinabaluensis fruits we’d found the night before near the Park Headquarters, but the fruits were brighter yellow and had the dried up flower still attached to the stubby stem.