If you’re like me, you’re already thinking about the next durian season. I’m so excited about the future and my 2017 durian itinerary, I can almost forget to put the brakes on, reflect and feel gratitude for the most awesome, best durians I experienced this year in the most awesome places with the best people.
Sure, 2016 had problems. Nobody’s saying it didn’t.
The weather was freaking weird. There were bad droughts. There were water shortages. In a lot of places, people who didn’t irrigate their durian trees lost them.
When my parents came to visit me in April, we were in the midst of, to quote Wunderground, “What is most likely the most intense heat wave ever observed in Southeast Asia.”
In Australia, Queensland durian farmers had almost no harvest at all. In Davao City, durian crops were down 40% from last year. In Malaysia, the second flowering failed, sending me scrambling to find good quality durians for my durian tour group in July (I found them, thanks to a lot of very kind and helpful durian lovers).
Each challenge made every durian I savored in 2016 just a little more precious.
If you think about it, it’s basically a miracle that such tender, creamy folds as this even exist.
But since I know you want to know which durians were the best of 2016, here’s a backwards reel of the best durians I ate and where I ate them.
These are the ones that I thought tasted best, but they are not in order of best-to-worst, but in reverse order chronologically (the one eaten most recently to the one eaten at the beginning of 2016, or Philippines — > Malaysia –> Singapore –> Malaysia –> Thailand).
So here we go, with the best durians of 2016.
1. Kop White
Where D’Farmers Market, Davao City Philippines (Post coming in January 2017)
I usually avoid big durians like the plague. Kob White was bigger than huge. It was the immense kind of huge durian I assume is filled with strings and half-unripened rubbery bits, because there’s no way that thing ripened perfectly on the tree without its own weight pulling it off half-baked.
I thought I knew something about durians. But to quote my dad, who quotes Mark Twain:
It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.
I bought the Kob both as an addition to my collection and because I knew I had plenty of people around to share it with. Sharing may have been a mistake. This Kob White was numbing.
That’s right, this huge, dinosaur of a durian had the unmistakeable, lip-tingling, satisfyingly cold/bitter flavor that hardcore durian lovers go out of their way to find. And I almost didn’t get it due to my snobbish know-it-allness.
Lesson for 2017 Be aware of your assumptions and willing to test them again.
2. D101, Philippines
My friend Sahara seemed to have a certain amount of guilt for loving this one. “I know it’s not a bitter one,” she kept saying. “But it’s just always so good.”
She’s right; D101 isn’t a bitter one. But bitter isn’t always better or best. I love bitter durians, but I would agree with her that the D101s we shared were the most consistent best durians we ate together during my month in Davao.
D101 was like that handy bottle of mid-range but excellent wine. You can bring it to any party, pop it open, and make everybody happy.
Smooth, fiberless, and with a beautiful strawberry-raspberry-Willie-Wonka-berry fruitiness that mixed with their creaminess like a gourmet dessert.
To quote myself:
It’s one of the defining parts of that memory now, the way we oohed and aaahed as each opened durian revealed a more beautiful, luscious series of folded cream. D101, when perfectly ripe, is one of the most fiberless durians, with a thicker slightly waxy skin that bursts when you bite in. It’s great.
Lesson for 2017 Trust what you like, you’re probably right
Where Hulu Langat stalls, check the map
You know by now that I have a weakness for diversity and other durian species, but this durian isn’t just a novelty item. I mean, I like that D. lowianus isn’t well documented or explored yet, so I have lots of questions. I like questions.
But this durian, which I dubbed “Cheesecake” actually just tasted really really good.
The adventure was one of my favorites of the summer too. I was in Kuala Lumpur visiting my friend George when a reader of this blog, Fais, Facebook messaged me to tell me about wild durians he was finding in the forested areas just beyond the fringes of KL.
We hopped in George’s truck and drove out to meet him at one of the durian depots where villagers come to dump their fruits. They had Durio oxleyanus there too, but it didn’t taste good enough for this list.
Here’s what I wrote about D. lowianus var. “Cheesecake” in August:
“Even the next day, when I ate/harvested the rest of our stash, it was still sticky and thick.
The flavor was great too, a wonderfully rich bitter butter laced with something like coffee and then, just at the end, that wild alcoholic punch.
I ate every piece and could have gone for more.
I have no idea why no one is cultivating this one.”
4. Musang King, Malaysia
Where Lucky Durian Farm in Karak, Malaysia
When Early August
In early August, I spent five days driving two Russian durian fanatics around Malaysia on a private tour. It was kind of a tense week for me. Only one guy spoke English, and the other guy was the kind of Russian who makes you earn his smiles.
So I knew the durians at Michael’s farm in Karak were really, really good. They were the kind of good that made a stoic Russian break out in silly shenanigans (which is why we named one of Michael’s kampungs the White Russian).
But in particular, we all thought there was something pretty special about Michael’s Musang King. It was definitely the best Musang King of the summer.
To quote myself:
What I noticed was that it was more moist than many Musang King I have had, without being watery.
It was like the difference between a brownie you buy at a store, and a brownie straight out of the oven.
5. D17, Malaysia
Where D’Unforgettable Durian Stall in Pontian, Johor Malaysia
When early August
Do you have any friends you always let order for you because they always seem to know what the best thing on the menu is? Or let pick the movie because, again, they’ve some how zeroed in on which are worth the time?
That’s my friend Glen and his wife, Candy. These weekend durian warrior patrol the state of Johor for goodies, and they were generous enough to share their treasure trove with me this summer. durian hunters know their durian, and I have to agree with them that the D17 sold at this small durian stall on the side of the road is as good as it gets with durian.
It is, however, the best durian I have ever had in Johor. It tastes like a Greek yoghurt, fatty and a little bit sour, like an ice cream cocktail.
It was the kind of durian that took my breath away, because it was unexpectedly good, better than good, better than I could remember durian being good.
6. Red Prawn, Singapore
Where Ministry of Durian (Full Post)
I’d had this crazy idea for a couple of years. It was about the Traditional Chinese Medicine concept of “heatiness” and whether durian can really make people feel hotter when they eat it, or interact with alcohol in such a way to impact people’s core body temperature or blood pressure.
In August, I organized a science-ish experiment at an air-conditioned shop called the Ministry of Durian in Singapore.
It was kind of a disaster, which you can read all about in the post, but the Red Prawn was phenomenal.
That day, the durian shop was packed and the only durian Melvin had available in mass quantity for us was Red Prawn from Johor. I was less than pleased, as Red Prawn is rarely my favorite to begin with, and Johor Red Prawn is just not Penang Red Prawn. Malaysian durian snobs, you know what I mean.
Which ended up being the saving grace. My packet was so good my tongue tingled a bit. I couldn’t believe it — numbing durian in Singapore. Not all the pieces were that good, but in general the quality was exceptional.
“Oh hell,” I thought as I reflected on the day. “At least the Red Prawn was good.”
Lesson for 2017 Success is a belly-full of durian
7. Kampung Durian, Gopeng Rainforest Malaysia
Where Gopeng Rainforest Resort, Malaysia
When Early July
This is one of the last photos of durian I took with my buddy, the Olympus EPL1 camera, may it Rest In Peace. As you can tell, the photo quality got really grainy just before its demise (here’s what camera I have now)
We didn’t quite make it through the whole tour, since we got distracted by the durians fallen in the orchard behind the village.
Orchard is a bit of a strong word maybe. The trees were planted, purposefully, but most were the uncultivated kampung type. What’s important is that the trees were over 50 years old and we were there in the morning, meaning those durians were fresh and tingly numbing.
A few people on the tour thought they were the best of the whole week we spent eating durian together. So for lack of a good quality photo to share with you, use your imagination. These durians were amazing.
Next year’s tour dates won’t be released until March, 2017, but you can find out more info here.
Where Eng Hoe’s Durian Stall, Batu Ferringhi, Penang Malaysia.
When Early July
For my Malaysian Durian Tour, I try really hard to source the full gamut of flavors in durian. From simply sweet to eggy to coffee or chocolate, I want the durian lovers on my tours to taste everything.
Which is why I took them to Eng Hoe’s this year to taste his famous Capri. Capri has an extremely strong, rum-like bunch. I don’t like Capri, even though it’s a great durian, which is why it is not on my list of 2016’s best-tasting durians (to me).
But Eng Hoe’s does have another durian I really really really really really like. It’s called Kacang Hijau.
Kacang Hijau is a small durian with off-white flesh. It tastes like straight-up French Vanilla Ice Cream.
From the original post:
This was the durian that made everyone exclaim “Ice Cream!”
The name translates as “Green Bean,” but I’m not sure why. Maybe because the spikes are a deep green.
It tasted so french vanilla smooth it was ridiculous. Dense and sticky, this durian will definitely be on my list of favorites from 2016.
At least I’m consistent about some things.
9. Fuk Thong, Thailand
Where Suan Ban Rao, Rayong
I’m sorry to my Thailand Tour group, because you missed this one. Me and my friend and partner Parisa savored this one without you, while we were preparing for you to come.
About a week before the Thailand Tour started, Parisa and I drove around to a lot of the farms to check on the quantity and quality of durians. Like I said, there were some weather problems, and we were making sure things would be perfect.
This one fell while we were touring Suan Ban Rao, where our group did later consume 16 durian varieties in one overstuffed sitting.
The group was not lucky enough to get a Fuk Thong, or “pumpkin.” But maybe this year they will.
The video above shows Parisa and me at some of the farms while getting ready for the tour, as well as us eating Fuk Thong.
Anyone who think Malaysian durians are better just hasn’t tried this one. I promise. It’s like all the good sticky parts of Hor Lor combined with the coffee of Kun Poh and the butterscothiness of Musang King.
I think Parisa almost cried with national pride. Thailand should be proud. (Parisa, see you again soon!)
10. Kop Lep Yai (Hawk’s Talon), Thailand
Where Suan Itsaree, Chanthaburi Thailand
When late May and early June
It wasn’t our best day of the Thailand Tour, but the durian was a stand out.
It rained all that morning, which we’d spent indoors learning about freeze-dried durian at Sunshine Durian Factory.
By the time we got to Suan Itsaree for lunch, the driveway leading up through the farm had turned into a slippery, molten mud flow. The tractor trailer giving us a ride (see the video above) lurched up the hill. Everybody was hungry and in a wet mood.
I didn’t take many photos there, because of wetness, so here’s another wet picture from a few days earlier:
Suan Itsaree is one of the only farms in Thailand that not only has some of the 234 really old varieties, but if you call ahead they’ll let them ripen on the tree to fall.
I’d of course called ahead, rewarding the group with this fragile eclaire of durian with the grey-orange flesh and slightly cherry-rum flavor of a Penang Red Prawn.
It was Jeff’s favorite, and he took seeds to Hawaii. So if you see “Hawk’s Talon” durians in the future at Hilo market, you know where it came from.
11. The First One: Kun Poh
Where Bao Sheng Durian Farm
When Penang Malaysia
Okay fine, this wasn’t technically my first durian of the season. I’d already been eating durian in Hawaii and Java. But it was the very first durian to fall at Bao Sheng Durian Farm in Penang, and it was my first year being there early enough in the season to experience the very first one of the season.
The fact that it was my favorite Penang durian, the Kun Poh, was just like an omen that it was going to be a very good 2016.
And maybe just being the first one made me extra excited, because it meant that things were starting up again. It was almost time for the Bao Sheng Durian Festival, and for all of you durian lovers to come, and for the exciting and busy summer to get rolling.
That durian symbolized a lot of things. But it also really good, and a precious moment to share with Mr. Chang and Zhi Vooi on the farm while we plotted and planned the 2016 season.
Here’s a video I made about it:
When there’s bad weather, a lousy durian season, and weird political stuff, it’s easy to lose sight of the small gifts and miracles that happen in our personal lives.
In addition to all these amazing durians and durian adventures, I just had an amazing year.
So many things happened in 2016. I tasted durian wine and got divorced, got strong enough to do a pull up, took my parents to eat durian in Thailand AND Malaysia (they had Musang King and D24!), ran a marathon, presented at the National Heirloom Expo, ate Artocarpus lanceifolius, shipped fresh durian from Hawaii to the mainland USA, drank durian jun, was visited in Oregon by durian farmers and met more of you and made more friends than any year in my adult life.
And this was on a “bad” durian year. Here’s a fact about durian: it’s cyclical. When there’s a really abundant season, the next one has to be a bit smaller to let things recover. And when it’s been kind of a lousy durian year, it means the next year will be really abundant.
So I’m really looking forward to 2017 and a year full of all the adventures and people that make life enjoyable.
Happy New Year, durian lovers!