This is Mr. Wai, the affable owner of a durian stall in Kuala Lumpur where I spent the first Friday night of 2015.
The stall is just one of a clump of three or more durian restaurants in the SS2 area, an area that has always managed to confuse me while at the same time being one of my favorite places to hang out in Asia.
Durian is part of the night life in Kuala Lumpur. Evenings buzz with activity as people tumble out of air conditioned office buildings into the heavy night air and lights flick on all over the city.
Usually a morning person, I transformed into a night owl in KL.
I couldn’t help it. The bright lights promised too many exciting things. New sights and people and friends and experiences.
Friday night I used Whatsapp (is “whatsapped” a verb yet?) to tell my friend Patrick, a journalist who wrote about us for The Star back in September, that I was going to SS2.
“I am so there!” he typed back. “Which stall?”
“The SS2 one,” I texted back, which I now realize must have been really confusing.
|Patrick, me and Loh. See the sign that says SS2?|
To me, Wai’s Durian Stall is synonymous with SS2. In fact, for the first two years I visited his stall, I thought the name of the durian restaurant was SS2 Durian, like the way stalls in Penang are registered by numbers.
It’s an easy mistake. Signs reading “SS2 Durian” plaster the beams of the large canopies over the restaurant, and their website (still under construction) is durianSS2.com. Even the backs of the server’s t-shirts say SS2.
But no. If I’d been paying attention, I would have noticed years ago that SS2 is the name of the neighborhood where on a single corner you can find between three and five durian stalls, depending on the season.
There’s also an SS1, an SS3, and other SS’s all the way SS12. I don’t know if any of them have durian stalls. Yet.
And because I’m me, I had to find out why so many neighborhoods are named SS. The double S is an abbreviation for “Subang Sungai” which directly translates as “Earring River.” That doesn’t clarify things for me, but in practice the SS denotes all neighborhoods in the central and western part of Petaling Jaya.
Just one S is the eastern bit, but I didn’t bother looking up what that S abbreviates. My obsessive compulsion ends with the durian.
|Chea Kim Wai|
About Wai’s Durian
Rob and I first visited Wai’s Durian way back in 2012 when this blog was only a few months old and Rob wrote about our adventures too (his post). But we didn’t meet Mr. Wai, maybe because we thought this guy was the owner (he’s still there!)
Cheah Kim Wai set up the stall in 2000 to help a cousin with a farm in Pahang who was struggling to make a profit from selling durians to Singapore. In those days, a wholesale D24 sold for as low as 2 RM per kilo.
Now, Wai’s Durian is the largest stall on the SS2 durian block, a sprawling, illuminated concrete platform set up off wet streets and covered entirely by canopies so large it feels like you’ve entered a building with really good ventilation.
I think it was the spaciousness, plus the never ending flow of customers, which attracted Rob and me our first time to the SS2 area. Wai’s Durian Stall is where I got hooked on the night time durian scene in Malaysia, where people sit around laughing with elbows on the table, their custard-encrusted fingers held at awkward angles as their faces slowly grow rosy from good vibes and whatever it is in durian that makes people happy.
This time around, it was the end of the season after months of heavy rain. They weren’t offering the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet due to low stock.
We decided to start with a Horlor, because Patrick had never had one and I’d never tasted one grown in Pahang.
I was curious if it would be as sticky, peanut-buttery sweet as the ones I’ve eaten in Penang. Durians are pretty particular about their environmental conditions, and I expected that a Pahang Horlor might be pretty different.
I expected to be surprised, but not this surprised.
|Hor Lor grown in Pahang, or something else?|
It was paler than I expected. Hor Lors often have a gorgeous yellow-gold hue bordering on an orange tinge. The shape seemed wrong to me too. Hor Lor translates as “water gourd” in Chinese, precisely because of the long, ropy pods cradled in the weirdly elongated shell.
But now that I’ve looked at a picture of a Hor Lor I ate last summer, I think the spike shape looks right. What do you think?
No matter. It’s fun to try out our durian ID skills, but ultimately the most important characteristic of a durian is that it’s tasty (but maybe not as tasty as that Penang Hor Lor. Mmmmmmmmm).
|Jantung – the Heart durian|
This was Loh’s pick, and the best durian of the evening. Jantung means the “heart-shaped durian,” but not like a Valentine’s Day heart. Like the unsymmetrical, lumpy organ in your body.
Maybe I was just too hungry, but when the Jantung was first cracked open and I saw that each locule had only one pod each, my heart sank a little. Usually this is a good thing, as supposedly a single seed absorbs more of the sunshine and nutrients and so tastes better than a locule with multiple seeds.
I wanted to eat durian, not nibble politely while waxing philosophical on the complexity of flavor.
Then I took a bite. The soft skin broke under my teeth and continued breaking. There was no resistance. There was no seed. It was a cream filled pillow to make Thai Monthong look like a pillow hair shirt.
When at last I found the seed, a tiny, shriveled sliver of cartilege, Jantung had won me over. SixthSeal blogger Huai Bin was so shocked by this inconspicuous abundance that he declared it his new favorite durian.
Maybe it’s really called the “heart durian” because it makes you fall in love where you didn’t think love was possible.
Before we left, Mr. Wai had one more surprise for us.
It was a cup of his premium durian gelato, made of pure D24 flesh with no preservatives. He says that it took him more than 50 experiment batches to get the recipe right.
“Does it have milk?” I asked suspiciously.
“No milk,” he assured me.
They make the gelato on site and as I took this picture I could see a guy in the back dumping durian flesh into a huge tub for another batch. Mr. Wai says they replace the batch every two days, so the durian gelato is always fresh.
Ice cream is my weakness. Going vegan and losing ice cream is part of what got me into durian in the first place, so I’m a sucker for anything smooth, creamy, cold, and dairy free. However, I chose not to take more than a bite of the gelato because he said it had something called “gelato flour” in it.
If someone can verify that gelato flour is vegetarian, I will go back and eat three cups by myself.
By the time we left, all the durians were gone. I promise I didn’t eat them all.
How To Get To Wai’s Durian Stall
Wai’s Durian Stall is in the SS2 neighborhood of Petaling Jaya, a satellite city about 15 km from downtown Kuala Lumpur. If you are staying in downtown Kuala Lumpur and don’t have a car, you have three options.
1) Take a taxi for about 50 RM or use Uber, which estimates prices as 22 RM from Chinatown.
2) Take the Rapid KL train to Taman Bahagia Station, and either walk or take a taxi the 1.6 km to Wai’s Durian Stall.
3) Take Metro Bus 99 or Rapid Bus U85 from Chinatown, which will drop you off one block away from the stall. Depending on traffic this can take more than one hour.