When Rob first asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I told him I didn’t want to eat durian, see durian or talk about durian. I felt like a day without durian would be really special! Then we found out about this special durian tasting place, where durians are served in a special progression with descriptions like “chocolately”, “flowery” and “wine tasting”. After reading the pamphlet, I couldn’t think of a more epic way to celebrate my Year of the Durian birthday!
Bao Sheng Durian Farm is a pretty special place. Mr. Sheng is a third generation durian farmer who has transformed his 6.7 acre farm into, as he describes it, “the paradise for durian lovers.” Not only can you enjoy a two hour buffet of organically grown durian, but you can also stay the night in his new Durian Villas to get the freshest durians as soon as they drop. Rob and I were just arriving from Thailand, where durians are never allowed to drop at all. We wanted to see what all of this falling durians fuss was about.
|Mr. Chang Teik Seng
During a quick tour of the Durian Villas we found a freshly fallen durian. Mr. Chang untangled the thorns from the net and showed me the end of the durian stem. The round, flat top was completely green. When I touched my finger to it and pulled away, a clear sticky goo stretched itself into the space between my finger and the stem. This durian had fallen within the last 30 minutes.
The durian, a yellow-fleshed variety called D604, was one of the selections for our appetizer course. We’d ordered the most expensive package, tantalizingly called “Durian in Black.” “Durian in Black” is an all-you-can-eat
buffet of durians which have dropped within the last 2 hours from the oldest trees. The brochure promised that we would taste chocolate, burnt sugar, floral perfume, and even wine, and that we may feel a numbing on our tongues and lips.
“Durian in Black” is the top tier of three durian buffet packages Mr. Chang offers. Level 1 is directed at beginners, those without much experience eating durian, while Level 2 is for those who already know they like durian. Level 3 is for those who already know that they really, really like durian and want to experience something special. At this point in our journey, Rob and I felt ready for something special.
“Those who eat Durian in Black, we can talk more,” Mr. Chang said, laughing.
Immediacy of consumption is key to the “Durian in Black” package. Unlike durians from young trees, which develop their peak flavor several hours after falling, fruits from more mature trees go watery and flavorless in just a few hours. To get the mouth-numbingly delicious fruits, you have to physically go to the orchard.
“Doesn’t matter how rich you are,” Mr. Chang said. “Even Richard Kuok, the richest man in Malaysia, has to come when durian drops.”
He has served “Durian in Black” to people of all backgrounds – business people, laborers, high ranking officials, and even the man who designed President Obama’s shoes.
Before we opening the durian, Mr. Chang knelt and banged each fruit on the ground, rotating to hit every side. Bao Sheng’s durians are caught in nets instead of plummeting 100 feet or more to the ground, as they do in the jungle or in Indonesia. He believes that thumping the durian creates the effect of falling, and releases the amazing odor and flavor that would naturally draw animals to the fruit.
|Jackie Chan’s Wife
Next was Hor Lor, one of Rob’s favorites. Sticky and peanut buttery sweet with chocolate undertones, Rob and our friends Chris and Cameron went crazy over it! By this time, the durian restaurant was beginning to fill up.
I hopped up to chat with the table next to us, a family from Singapore who had come here just to eat durian. I asked to take their picture, and they laughed and made fun of the guy in pink, giggling that he is not a typical Singaporean because he is too fat. Our other side filled up with Japanese durian tourists, a family from Hong Kong had arrived, and a large group of Indonesians from Java were busy snapping pictures of
themselves holding durians. It was crowded!
Mr. Chang kept bringing us excellent durians. There were so many durians, I wasn’t certain I would have room for our grand finale, the mouth-numbing Red Prawn. We were already in awe. I had never tasted so many levels of chocolate, red wine, coffee, toffee, vanilla, and perfume all encased in a bite of delectable soft cream or gummy butter.
To cleanse our pallets, so to better appreciate the difference in flavors between each fruit, he suggested we drink salt water out of the rind of the durian, or take a bite of bread. Every durian variety had a distinct texture and flavor. Even different fruits of the same variety tasted different – sweeter, or more bitter, or more alcoholic. Growing sillier and sillier, we had fun joking about the durian named after Jackie Chan’s wife, an obese, fleshy monstrosity.
|Red Prawn with slight bruising
At last it came – the wrinkliest Red Prawn, with the tell-tale black spot that Mr. Chang claims is the sign that a durian will be mouth-numbing, and generally excellent. This is why the package is named “Durian in Black.”
I was a little nervous, hoping not to be disappointed, but also having no idea what to expect. The texture was entirely smooth, like pureed cream, with a deep burnt toffee-chocolate flavor. After a second I felt my lips begin to tingle and my tongue felt cold and smooth. We oohed and aahed over this magical durian, and agreed that our 120 RM had been well spent.
Even after this masterpiece, Mr. Chang had one last surprise for us. That morning a single durian had dropped from his 100 year old tree, which he called the Monkey Tree. A strange, glowing green durian with curving spikes, this durian intrigued me enough to push through my durian-induced fog and try one last piece. In texture it was thick and sticky, with a light yellow butter flavor. Delicious.
Toward the end of the extravaganza, we were all feeling a bit lightheaded and tipsy, just like you might expect at the end of a wine tasting. I was giggling a lot and Chris said my face was flushed. It was all wonderful, although Rob noticed that after numbing our mouths on Red Prawn, none of the other durians had quite the depth of flavor.
I dropped out of the smorgasbord first, too full to continue eating. Rob filled up next, and we watched in giddy disbelief as Chris and Cameron kept pounding down whatever Mr. Chang opened.
When at last we said good-bye and thank-you to Mr. Chang, it was the hottest point in the afternoon. With bellies stuffed with durian, we were a sweaty bunch. Durian is renowned for being “heaty.” I love this word. It’s an Asian-created English word that you’ll never find in Merriam-Webster, but its use is widespread on forums and blogs about durian. We were definitely feeling very “heaty.” I was even feeling a bit nauseous from too much rich food.
Luckily, the Titi Kerawong waterfall was only a 5 minute walk down the hill from Bao Sheng’s Farm. We finished up my birthday feast with a cool dip and took turns getting massaged by the pounding water.
Best Birthday Brunch Ever!
To find out which durians are available, he has a very handy timetable informing visitors which durians will be dropping when, so you can plan your trip around your favorite durian.
Bao Sheng Durian Farm (349429-A)
150 Mk.2, Sungai Pinang,
11010 Balik Pulau