So I got older again. I don’t know how it happened so fast. Time flies when you’re having fun, or is it when you’re eating really dank durian? This year friends from all over the world joined me at my favorite durian farm in Penang to celebrate. Between them and the durian, it really was a special day. Check out these salivating pics below.
I chose to celebrate by going back to Bao Sheng’s Durian Orchard, one of my favorite spots for some seriously, seriously scrumptious durian. I’ve been there twice: once for my birthday last year, and once for a rare second season in December. For this durian-lover, it’s the perfect vacation spot. High in the mountains overlooking the ocean, it’s a quiet oasis of durian trees waving in the warm seabreeze. There’s nothing nearby, so that at night our loudest neighbors are frogs, crickets, and cicadas. There’s even a waterfall nearby to cool off in between durian.
Since there’s nothing but fruit stands for miles around Bao Sheng’s, people who want to eat noodles or rice or food other than durian need to either bring it themselves or drive to town. Mr. Chang doesn’t cook for his guests. He himself eats almost exclusively durian during the season, and sees no reason people who visit his farm to eat durian shouldn’t do the same. I agree with this philosophy.
Since Rob and I had made the effort to go to Penang to eat durian, we bought in on the 24-hour durian buffet. We could eat durian any time we wanted, for all three meals and snacks. Two of our friends, Jake and Simon, joined us by staying at Bao Sheng’s, so it was a non-stop durian party!
|Jake, Simon, and Red Prawn|
I’ve been to Penang three times now, and I’ve noticed that Penang durian really is different from durian anywhere else in Malaysia. It tends to be wetter, smoother, and almost completely fiberless, a cream wrapped in a delicate skin. Mr. Chang knows my tastes, and only serves me durian from old trees. I think that the wrinkled flesh is more pronounced in Penang, bordering on an insane temptation of folds, shadows, and creamy flesh. As I type, I can barely look at these pictures without wanting to eat my computer screen.
|hello delicious: Red Prawn|
For the main buffet, Mr. Chang served us the usual progression: starting with light, fruity tasting durian and ending with powerfully rich, dense fruits with undertones of wine that left my tongue literally tingling. Fresh, high quality durian actually do create other sensations in the mouth than taste, so that at the same time as you are getting flooded with a complexity of flavor the roof of the mouth, gums and tongue feel slightly cool, like eating ice cream or a breath mint, and the lips tingle with a zing. It is truly a gestalt experience.
These amazing, tongue-tingling durians are few and far between because they demand perfection: the time window from when it fell off the tree, the age of the tree, the fertilizer, the amount of sunshine, everything. Like everything extraordinary, it’s rarity just makes it all the more appreciated.
Mr. Chang can pick them by smell. I can’t. I’m trying to learn, but I haven’t yet picked up on the subtle olfactory blend of chocolate, fresh grass, burnt sugar and wine. Maybe with enough practice I’ll get the hang of it. And enough durian.
|Jackie Chan’s Wife (name of durian)|
The bummer was that my birthday fell on a Friday, which meant we were at Bao Sheng’s for the weekend. This was the first time I had experienced a weekend at peak season there. It was a circus. Huge tour buses showed up daily, full of Chinese and Malaysian locusts who milled around eating all the durian. At the end of the day there was barely anything left. Worse, Mr. Chang was so busy chopping and cracking open that he barely had time to choose any durian for moi, his number one durian fan.
|There was so little durian I had to eat cempedak too|
Between the chaos and the scarcity of durian, Rob and I decided we will never again visit Bao Sheng’s on the weekend. I like the quiet, the abundance of high quality durian, and the service of Mr. Chang’s experienced nose. These are the factors that make paying the high prices worth it.
To escape the crowds and cool off our heat-generating durian bellies, we spent a lot of time at the waterfall. We even brought a D14 durian and ate it standing knee-deep in the refreshingly cool water. Fun fact: durians float.
|Thanks for coming!|
In some ways, the weekend was disappointing. But we did get to have some really, really good durian. Just maybe not top notch. To me, it was another example of my favorite extended metaphor for the durian, and why it is always a hunt. The factors that make the perfect durian can’t be controlled or predicted. You never know when or where you’ll find it, although you can make some educated guesses. And similarly, you never know what a durian will be like before you break inside that thorny shell.
I wonder what will happen this year?