You know you’ve come to a good place when you ask for directions to the Central Market, and the answer is “Just across from Durian Street.”
And they don’t mean just a street named durian, because Rob and I have found those too. They mean an actual legitimate street lined with durian vendors. If you ever find yourself durian hungry in Kota Kinabalu, make your dinner plans here.
The Kota Kinabalu durian street is a quiet side lane under a pedestrian bridge running from the Central Market to the Post Office. In the daytime, the sidewalk under the bridge is lined with food vendors selling curries, snacks, and sweetened coconut water.
The durian arrives around 4 PM, when pick-up trucks and minivans, seats removed and filled with durian, begin inching between the food stalls or parking blatantly in front of them.
Some of the food stalls seem to morph into durian stalls as the night wears on, like this fried banana table. A minivan filled with durian parked behind the table and within minutes, this beautiful lady slicing a banana was selling styrofoam packets of durian instead.
When they arrive the men adjust their umbrellas and rig the bright white lights used by durian vendors everywhere in Southeast Asia.
They put out tables and chairs for durian munchers, and just about the time that the setting sun is turning the waterfront a dreamy swirl of orange and pink and those white lights are flicking on up and down a darkening Durian Street, the durian munchers arrive.
Depending on the season, there are dozens of durian stalls. In the photo below, each blue tent is a durian stall. So is the red one, where Jess and I ended up eating.
There were so many stalls that it was difficult to choose. We considered durian hopping, buying a few packets or durians from multiple vendors – but we were tired. Sometimes there’s just something really pleasant about plopping down at one place for a durian meal after a long day.
We selected a truck that had a good quantity of decent looking durians and a large stack of very tasty looking packets selling for 10 RM or 15 RM, depending on the size.
Then we settled in to our seats with other durian revelers to smorgasbord.
Since it was the tail end of the season, there wasn’t that big of a selection. Vendors were primarily selling a durian they call Kahwin, which is really a euphemism for Kampung. It’s supposed to promise better quality – in particular, a higher flesh-to-seed ratio – and for the most part I think it does.
We chose two durians for 7 RM ($2 USD)/kilo, and sat down while he hacked it open.
It wasn’t the most beautiful durian opening, but it got the job done.
Unfortunately, one of the durians wasn’t quite up to our standards. It was soft, but only in an ish kind of way and there were hard rubbery spots. So I got up to trade it in for another.
“No,” the vendor told flat out me when I fist handed him the durian. “If you give me good durian, I’ll buy a lot from you,” I reminded him.
He looked at me with his eyes browsed raised, studying my face. “We really like durian, and we’re hungry,” I explained.
Without saying anything, he took the durian and brought us this one. It had a strange copper sheen to it, and was soft, a little fibrous, and had a good bitter sweet flavor. It was acceptable.
We then had to make good on my promise and buy a lot of durian.
But by that point, the street was getting busy and our vendor had his hands full, hacking durian after durian open. And the packets had caught our attention.
Some of them looked pretty amazing, the pods swollen cream-filled balloons partially burst by rough handling.
And while I don’t like buying styrofoam, sometimes it’s nice to pick out what just looks irresistible.
This durian was such a bright, turmeric yellow it looked almost like Musang King, but a little wetter.
It was one of the more bitter durians, each silky bite made even more delicious by that color. It was a feast for the eyes as well as the mouth.
I was hoping we would be able to find some of the jungle durians. KK’s Durian Street is where Rob and I first tasted Sukang (Durio oxleyanus) back in 2012. At that time we also found red and orange Durio graveolens.
That’s one of the things that makes KK’s Durian Street so special. Unlike other, larger Durian Streets, like Singapore’s Sims Avenue or Kuala Lumpur’s SS2, here there’s a good chance of finding two or three different species of durian for an exciting and diverse durian degustation.
Where is Durian Street in Kota Kinabalu?
The street is actually called Jalan Segama, and it’s right next to KK Plaza on the Waterfront Road, across the street from the Central Market.
The durian stalls are open every night starting around 4 PM until 11 PM. The number of stalls depends on the season. During peak season there are a lot, while on the off-season there may be just one or two carrying durians brought all the way from Zamboanga, Philippines!
The street is really easy to get to, especially if you come in on the late afternoon ferry from Brunei or are getting back from an afternoon on the beaches of Sapi or Manukan islands.
Have you ever eaten on Kota Kinabalu Durian Street? Leave your reviews for other durian lovers below!