These were my favorite durians that I ate in the last year, slurped and savored and now very gone. I like remembering them, but what I like best is how reviewing the durians I ate these past 365 days makes me simultaneously grateful and also excited for the year that’s coming.
Dwelling in the past is an illusion, because for both you and me these pictures are now ideas for what we can possibly taste and discover and experience in the future, maybe even in 2016! Prepare yourselves, there’s many scrumptious-looking pictures in this post.
Of course nothing ever repeats in identically the same way. Each of these durians were the result of a magical union of rain patterns and fertilizers and erratic pollination.
Which ones I got to taste depended on where I was and when.
Its all rather arbitrary and subjective, which is why to be fair to all the 9 wonderful durian below I’ve put this list in chronological order, starting in January.
You know how when you steel yourself for a very meh experience and then it turns out to be awesome, that’s somehow even more awesome then if you’d been expecting it to be awesome the whole time? That’s D78.
In January I was spending most of my evenings in the SS2 neighborhood of KL, bouncing between either the King of the King Durian Stall or Wai’s Durian Stall, which are only about 100 meters distant from each others. I was conducting a survey comparing how Westerners and Asian durian lovers, which many of you participated in online.
Both stalls were kind to let me harass their customers with my papers, pens and awkward approaches, and since I would eventually get hungry I bought a lot of durian from them. The price of D78 was low enough I could sustainably supply myself through the evening, and it turned out to be a surprisingly good little durian.
As I wrote in January:
“D78 is a sweet, cheerful little durian with a really pleasant chocolatey undertone that grounds the sweetness. Once I’d found D78, I wasn’t even tempted to bother with the other durians.”
Durian snobs may turn up their noses at its lack of punchy bitterness or alcoholic bite. But both times I had it — first in January, and then again in July at Poh Beng’s Durian Stall, it was sticky and pleasant and mild I actually preferred it to the Red Prawn we ate at the same time.
2. Rainbow Durian
Where: Java — Banyuwangi Fruit Festival, Eko Mulyanto’s Nursery
In March, Rob and I set out in a little blue rental car from Bali and headed to Banyuwangi on east Java. It’s just on the other side of the 1.5 mile Bali Strait that still takes the ferry a good 45 minutes to inch across.
There I got my durian geek on. In Banyuwangi, there are three species of durian: D. gravoelens, D. kutejensis, and D. zibethinus, and they interbreed to create some pretty amazing pink, marbled, and striped durians.
We met with Eko Mulyanto and Lutfi Bansar, who have been studying these durians and purposefully mixing and matching them to control the results.
The Rainbow durian is one of their creations, and is actually the melding of all three species into one single durian. I explained how this is possible in this post.
What I liked about the Rainbow durian, even more than it’s glowing sunrise coloration, was that it’s texture was far denser and thicker than a normal durian but had a similar level of sweetness and flavor. I wished we’d been able to try another to see if it was consistently that good.
Incidentally, this would also be Rob’s last durian adventure. Here’s why.
Where: Koh Phangan, Thailand and Chanthaburi, Thailand
When: February and May
Every year Chanee durian is the first thing I go looking for when I arrive in Thailand. It doesn’t feel like the durian season has started until I’ve got a taste of this yellow, pillowy and herbal-metallic flesh.
My first Chanee this year came early — in February. I ate it just before we left Koh Phangan, when the island started getting some durians from the mainland. I also ate it alone, for perhaps the first time ever, which made me appreciate just how much better durian tastes when you can celebrate with friends.
In May I went to Chanthaburi to attend the ISHS Durian Symposium (see the vlog) and in the weeks before the symposium I stayed at a hotel that doesn’t care at all if you bring massive quantities of durians into the rooms. Like, really doesn’t care.
Durian parties happened in the rooms every night. It was a lonely durian lover’s dream come true.
The funny thing is how much the Chanthaburi durian has changed just in the few years since I’ve been going. So many Western durian lovers flock to Chanthaburi every year that Thai durian vendors now “get it” that Westerners generally like ripe durians. As I walked through the stalls they thrust splitting durians at me, calling “Nim nim!” (very ripe).
In my room I had quite a smorgasbord of durian varieties to share with friends. We had Nockachip and Tubtim and Chanee Khai, but the best tasting durian were, again and again, Chanee.
4. Nom Sod
Where: Nakhon Nayok, Thailand — Suan La Ong Fah
Directly after the Durian Symposium, I took some friends from Indonesia and Australia to see Chatri and one of my favorite orchards in all of Thailand. I love going to Chatri’s because it’s always so peaceful.
This year Chatri has upped his game and installed labels on his trees with QR codes so you can look up the varieties on your phone. We tasted so many different kinds of durians, but my favorite was the Nom Sod, a milky variety that kept dropping on us as we walked around.
Chatri usually picks his durians early, like everyone in Thailand, but for some reason there was a surplus of tree-dropped Nom Sod. Milky, slurpy soft and really, really mild, Nom Sod reminded me a little of how I used to cook my Cream of Wheat as a child — so thin the rice flour was like tiny grains of sand floating in brown-sugared milk. I liked it that way, and I liked Nom Sod.
I ate more Nom Sod on that one day then I did of other durians over the span of several days.
5. Kun Poh
Where: Bao Sheng Durian Farm, Penang Malaysia
The durian I ate the most of this year was probably Kun Poh. I just couldn’t seem to get enough.
It’s probably the softer sister to Little Red, the skin of Kun Poh flesh tears easily and is messy to open, to hold and to eat. It rarely comes out looking tidy, but is beautiful anyway with the contrast of deep orange-hued skin and puffy pale cream spilling outside.
This year in particular, the Kun Poh developed a certain maturity of flavor, deep and rounded like dark coffee liqueur sloshed into half-melted milk chocolate.
It’s imperfect, sloppy flesh bespoke an amazing richness that was shockingly consistent for about 2 weeks. When the very last Kun Poh of the season dropped, I felt a small sadness that it’s short time on earth was already up. There’s no way to know whether it will be as good next year, but maybe in two years, or three years, I’ll get lucky again.
6. Durio lowianus
Where: Kuala Kangsar, 2015 Durian TourMaybe novelty is my addiction, but the durian that I was most jazzed to meet this year was Durio lowianus. It’s a different species of durian, that’s native to Peninsular Malaysia.Durio lowianus is sometimes known as Durian daun or “leaf durian” because the shell is very green and when you look up at the tree, it can be hard to tell if there are fruits still up there or not. Or at least that’s one story behind the name.We sampled D. lowianus at the Kuala Kangsar Horticultural Research Station where at one time scientists were interested in using Lowianus as rootstock to prevent diseases. Some of the people on the 2015 Durian Tour took home seeds to plant and play with.Who knows, maybe cross pollination will yield something as bright and exciting as the Rainbow Durian in Banyuwangi.Lowianus doesn’t taste like a normal durian, although the color is brilliant enough to rival Musang King. It’s more potent, with a liquor-like snappy bite to the cream. I thought it was delicious, and one more amazing fruit to check off my bucket list.
|D2 near Cameron Highlands|
Where: Near Tapah, Perak, Malaysia
I am convinced that D2 is the sweeter, darker orange parent of Red Prawn. It’s one of the oldest durians in Malaysia, registered in the 1930’s, and was at one time really popular. So it’s entirely possible that someone planted a D2 in Penang that eventually spawned Red Prawn.
This D2 came from a farm along the road to the Cameron Highlands, where we stopped on the Malaysia Durian Tour. The farm specializes in D24, which is what I’d asked him to serve, but he shook his head and said that he had the best D2 for us that we really had to try.
Would we say no to that?
It was a good year for D2. In Penang we’d eaten some really good ones, but that D2 on the road to Cameron Highlands was the best yet. Inside, the flesh was super puffy, marshmallow-like and flavored like strawberry liqueur. It was like a slightly fruitier version of Red Prawn, but with a mellowness that neutralized the sweetness and made it just pure deliciousness. There was only one, but we all wished there had been more.
Where: Bentong, Malaysia, Malaysia Durian Tour
The last day of the tour it rained. We were lucky in a way, because the rain held off until mid-morning. This meant we were able to dash through the Sunday morning market in Bentong before heading to our last farm of the trip, where the rain started in earnest. The only thing to do was sit in a covered area and eat…not such a terrible way to end the week.
It also meant that our last durians were at least harvested dry, and we got to taste one of the best Tekkas I’ve ever had.
I always think of Tekka as a sort of vintage durian, both because it’s the favored durian of older people for it’s bitterness and also because of it’s coloration. To me, Tekka always has a slightly sepia tint, enhanced by the rust-colored streak down the core and it’s sort of caramel-colored flesh.
I’ve always liked Tekka, but this one was really excellent and definitely ranks maybe two or three of my favorite durians of the year.
9. Musang King
Where: Gua Musang — Tina the Musang Queen
When: July and August
One of my favorite memories from the original Year of the Durian was going to visit Tina Chong’s durian orchard in Gua Musang.
Going to Tina’s is an adventure, because not only do you have to go to the very small town of Gua Musang, but you then have to get in a car with 4-wheel drive and bounce your way deep into the hillsides.
So I was really thrilled to bring the group there for the Malaysia Durian Tour, and also to see for myself if Tina’s durians were as good as I remembered.
It was a resurrection of Musang King in my mind, and a totally new understanding of the mighty MSK. I realized, during the 12 or so hours we wandered around looking for freshly fallen durians, that I prefer to eat Musang King maybe an hour after it’s fallen instead of right away.
When it’s just minutes off the tree, Musang King is pastier and sweeter, and if you let it sit for a little while the flesh gets smoother, richer, more chocolatey and in my mind, more delicious. I surprised myself just how much I liked it, and wow does it come out pretty in photos.