Rob and I first visited the Luwus Horticultural Research Station back in 2012, on our first trip to Bali. It was here that we first tasted a Thai style durian, a wonderfully yellow Kani (Thai Chanee) that still haunts me as one of the best durians I’ve ever had. It was definitely the best durian I’d had at that point in my life. It had just fallen off the tree. It was luck.
We didn’t get lucky with Kani this time, but we did get to taste a durian from the station’s oldest tree, a Bali durian variety called Sibadak.
When Rob and I returned to Bali we went to the research center on our first durian excursion. Maybe another Kani would fall. Maybe something better.
The research station is small. They have about 100 durian trees, as well as dragon fruits and oranges, on 4.5 hectares of land.
There are two buildings and a few greenhouses set along a brick road that runs about 300 meters. That’s pretty much it.
Disappointingly, you can’t buy durians here, although if you come at the right time you might get to taste some.
We were lucky. Doubly so, because Mr. Suta Maryana was in the day we visited. He’s in charge of growing over 10,000 durian seedlings that will be distributed to farmers all over Bali.
This is huge, because the type of seedlings being distributed will largely determine the future of the durian scene in Bali.
He can choose between the six varieties of durian grown at the Research Center.
Two are originally from Thailand, the Otong (Thai Monthong) and Kani (Thai Chanee). Three are from Java – Matahari, Sukun and Petruk.
And then there was Sibadak, a Balinese durian. In the photo above, there happens to be an entire burlap sack of Sibadak durians about two feet from Mr. Suta’s right foot. The seed in Rob’s right hand is also Sibadak.
It was the first durian planted at the research station in 1957.
It was a massive, old tree. A tree that was planted when Sukarno was president of a democracy sliding toward autocracy.
Before General Suharto staged a coup and began violent communist purges which wiped out as much as 5% of the Balinese population.Before the volcanic explosion of Mount Agung and the rain of ash that forced many Balinese people to leave the island and seek work elsewhere.
It was planted before my mother was even an idea in my grandmother’s brain. And that is an old tree, no offense, Mom.
Old trees have a lot of experience in making good durians. And this Sibadak was no exception. It was creamy and mild and ever so slightly bitter, so voluptuous with a slightly fibrous texture that I suspected it might have a Thai ancestor, but it was hard to tell.
I would definitely choose Sibadak over Otong any day, but then, I may be slightly (ahem) biased against Monthongs.
Farmers however, don’t share my opinion. They want to grow Otong, and so the research center mainly focuses on growing Otong too.
Rows and rows of them, neatly spaced and planted over a carpet of red peace lilies.
Otong comes from a research station in Java. It’s not clear if this is a direct clone of Monthong, or a slight mutation from a seedling. Mr. Suta says they focus on Otong because this is the variety farmers want to grow.
The fruits are enormous, fleshy and sweet. They fetch prices 3 or 4 times that of a normal, local durian and can be exported to Java.
Which is why nearly all of the 10,000 seedlings to be distributed to farmers are of the Otong variety.
When you visit Bali again in 10 years, the durian scene will probably look remarkably different to how it does to me hopping from stall to stall in 2015.
Right now, Otong is in the minority, outflanked by durians small and large with different thorns and colors and shapes.
In 10 years, the scales may have tipped toward the sweet, creamy and fat Otongs. They’re definitely be plentiful, and the prices will have dropped from the somewhat expensive 100,000 IDR per fruit.
For now, make sure to explore and enjoy the variety of native Balinese durians, and keep an eye out for Sibadak. It’s good.