Rob and I were intrigued by the Musang King durian the first time we saw it. The amazing turmeric-yellow flesh of this durian is the most striking of any we’ve seen yet.
It earned its fame as the King of Durian in 2010, when Stanley Ho, Macau’s “King of Gambling” and the 84th richest man in the world, sent his private jet to Singapore and purchased 88 fruits. At an average of 35 RM/kilo, the total came to a whopping 4,800RM ($1,514 USD), not counting the expense of going on a grocery run with a jet.
|This guy gave me a piece and told me it was named after a raccoon|
The fruit’s inhibitive price is one reason Rob and I waited so long to give it a try. We would have waited even longer, except that we ran into a nice Australian lady while buying our durian out of a car trunk on Jalan Alor. She had chosen to visit family in Kuala Lumpur during durian season. She asked us to finish her last pod of Musang King, claiming she was simply too full to manage the last few seeds.
Could we say no? Definitely not.
That was our first taste. Since then, we’ve had the good fortune to have been gifted a number of Musang King durians by the incredibly generous people we’ve interviewed. On Friday we even tasted Musang King from the famed 818 Durian Stall, the very same place that billionaire Stanley Ho picked for his durian delivery (pictures on our facebook page).
|The musang stamp of approval|
Each time we were treated to Musang’s silky yet powerful custard, someone told us how Musang King got its name. It’s named
after the Musang, which is some kind of animal that really likes to eat
durian. In fact, the very best durians are those partially nibbled by a
musang, which uses its enhanced sense of smell to pick the sweetest,
tastiest fruits. In Indonesia, I was told that a musang was a big type
of rat. A lady at a farm in Thailand said it was a squirrel. Later,
someone told me it was a name for a wild cat that likes to eat durian.
This nice guy (above) at a durian buffet in Kuala Lumpur said it was a
raccoon. And since then, numerous people have said that the musang is a
So rat, cat, squirrel, racoon or fox? What is a Musang anyway?
I decided it was time to finally look it up. This is a Musang:
Musang is the Malaysian word for any of the Civets, although it most commonly refers to the Asian Palm Civet. Civets are a cute little nocturnal animals that fit all of the above descriptions, looking like a large squirrels with cat ears, fox faces, and raccoon-like markings. There’s even a Masked Palm Civet, although its “mask” is white, not black.
|Green=natural range of Asian Palm Civet, red marks introduced|
There are 19 Civets subspecies living throughout SE Asia. Unlike most of the wild animals in this region, the Asian Palm Civet population is doing well and is unlikely to be endangered any time soon. This isn’t the case for its cousins with smaller territories, like Borneo’s Otter Civet, many of whom are becoming increasingly rare.
You may have heard of Civets because the coffee made of their poo is now the most expensive beverage in the world. The creatures love to eat coffee berries. The beans pass through their digestive tract intact and are then washed, dried, roasted, ground and made into cups of coffee that can cost upwards of $100.
|Image borrowed from redorbit|
Civets are also inextricably linked to durian. Of the 30 species of durian, the only cultivated species, Durio Zibethinus, takes its scientific name from the Indian Civet, Viverra zibetha. In fact, texts from the 18th century refer to durian as the “Civet Fruit.” This may be because Civet cats adore durian to the extent that people sometimes used durian to bait and trap the animals, or because Civets are also famous for their strong and slightly nauseating odor. We’ll never know, because Linnaeus never actually encountered a durian himself (1).
Rob and I enjoy the Musang King each time we taste it, although I’m not sure we rank it as superior to Mr. Chang’s Red Prawns. But durians vary so much depending on where they’re grown, so its difficult to say if we’ve really experienced Musang King at its best.
To find out, Rob and I are currently visiting Gua Musang, the home of the Musang King durian. We’ve already had the good fortune to meet Tina Chong, whom the locals affectionately call “Durian Queen.” We’re going to stay the night at her farm and help her collect durians in the morning for shipment to Singapore. Maybe we’ll see a musang!