representative of Penang State Tourism Department, warned me that we
wouldn’t find much. “It’s really just a gimmick to get people to buy durian,” she admitted, “to support the
farmers in Balik Pulau, because nobody goes there.” All of the durians
on Penang are grown in the mountainous region between Balik Pulau and
Teluk Bahang, in the northeastern corner of the island. Most of these
durians are gathered in the mornings and shuttled fresh to Georgetown on
trucks. The 45-60 minute drive is windy, slow, and riddled with people
passing on blind curves. Only the truly obsessed venture all the way to
Balik Pulau to get their durian fix.
truly obsessed. While there are plenty of durians to eat in Georgetown, we wanted to get to the source. When last week we arrived in Balik Pulau around midnight, we
discovered that it may be the place for daytime durian tourism,
there are no hotels. Later I found out about Upeh Inn, (you can email them to make a reservation) but at 50 RM a night, we preferred to stay in a cheaper guesthouse in Georgetown and commute over the mountains. So although we’d been told there might not be much going on, we boarded a bus back to the Other Side, this time with our friend Chris, intent on finding the “Durian Festival.”
large, cream colored complex located adjacent the bus station. It
looked totally dead as we approached it, with only a few cars and motorcycles in
the parking lot. Inside a lonely fruit vendor greeted us. She was selling a myriad of
fruits but not durian. We paused to check out her nutmeg fruits, which we had
never seen before.
|Beautiful! And it really smells like nutmeg!|
the Durian Festival flier. She looked confused, and told us that yes, this was
the New Market, but she didn’t know about a Durian Festival. She pointed to the
back of the building and said there was durian back there. We started
meandering down the deserted and shuttered hallway, not sure what we would
find. And then – yes! the heavy and unmistakeable odor of durian hit our
nostrils. We were on the right track.
corner we found a single open durian storefront, the hallway littered with durians.
This obscure little store was obviously a popular joint. Families and friends crowded around the two folding tables, while a line issued
out of the store. Everyone was surprised to see us.
like durian?” they asked us. We said yes (of course!), and they crowded around to talk. Most people were from the area, here to pick up their favorite durian
from their favorite stall, but several had come a little farther for the fruit. One family had driven over the mountain from
Georgetown for an afternoon outing, and another couple were Asian-Australians who
had taken the opportunity to visit family during durian season.
why they were buying durian here instead of at one of the stalls lining
the street in front of the bus station. They replied that the quality here was
better, and one lady suggested the price was a little cheaper too. The group suggested
that we let the durian boss pick one for us, and we obliged. It was well past
lunch time, and I was hungry.
durian boss, who obviously found our patronage amusing, selected a Hor Lor. A small, lumpy green durian, it didn’t look particularly appealing. The
whole thing cost 12 RM ($4), which seemed expensive for such a tiny,
unappealing green spike ball. The crowd encouraged me to trust him, so I did.
frosting. I felt like a dog with a gob of peanut butter in its mouth just
trying to swallow. The flavor was nuanced with hints of bitter dark chocolate and cream cheese. Rob proclaimed it his favorite durian so far on Penang.
|This cat may have had too much durian… 😛|
going to make an affordable meal. Thankfully, 118 Durian sold cheap Kampungs
too! We purchased 5 of the small jungle durians for only 10 RM, and meandered off to a
creek side to eat. Then we spotted them – tall, gorgeous durian trees on the other bank! We
jumped across and wandered into somebody’s orchard. Most of the durians were tied up, but one had rolled down the steep hill to the
creek. Rob picked it up, and we crept back across the water into the shade
of some banana trees to enjoy a late lunch.
monitor lizard across the creek! We stared at the moving bushes, wondering what
on earth could be making such a racket until the lizard appeared on a bare spot
on the bank, all 6 feet of him, and then slowly meandered away. The lizard was more exciting than our meal. Most of the durians were misses, either unripe and hard or overripe and nearly alcoholic, but Rob’s find was perfect.
station. As we walked along, I realized that the name of Store 118, the New Market stall, was no oddity – all the stalls had a number for a name! I stopped and asked a vendor, a rail thin Indian man clenching a cigarette
between his teeth, why the stalls were numbered. He said they were
registered with the Penang State Government. Durian is serious business here!
|Love this guy’s glasses|
even tempted by these pricy but delicious looking durians. We hopped back on
the bus up the hill to Anjung Indah, a panorama point where the
Penang State Government has chosen to host the “Durian Festival,” or the “Pesta Durian” in Malaysian. From the mountain top we looked out through the thick haze, over the slopes of the
jungle leading back down to Balik Pulau town, now spread below us, and beyond that to the sun low over the
The festival site was nearly deserted, except for a dozen
businessmen and women from Kuala Lumpur who were here on a company outing. For
most of the vendors there, it was their first time participating in the
festival. I asked Yen, the vendor of 668 Durian, if she thought it was financially
worth it to sell durian on this remote hillside. She was unsure. This was her first year to participate, and since the mornings were slow she was also selling durian
in Balik Pulau town. Her husband works another stall at the Straits Quay mall in
|I love the little dancing durian icon!|
our attention. We asked Yen about it, and she grabbed a round, pear
shaped durian with tiny spikes. This one didn’t have a name, but she said it
was indeed red. We agreed to give it a try, partly because I felt obliged after she was kind enough to answer my many questions, although at 30 RM ($10!!) for one fruit,
this was now our most expensive durian.
came in at the second and third bites and kept growing. Strong and coffee like,
while yet sweet and fruity, this durian had that strange effect of making us
feel high. We were all feeling pretty silly by our second piece! What is it in
some durians that does this?