I love wandering into the most random of places. These are the spaces that just exist, and people live there. There’s no overt or covert attractions, but in some some ways these places are more interesting than the Malaccas and Phukets and Orlandos of the world. Especially if they’ve got Black Thorn durian.
Durian makes no promises, but I sometimes do. Like when I agreed to take some people on a private tour of Malaysia, I said they would get to taste Black Thorn.
Black Thorn is one of the most popular durians in Malaysia right now. It sells for more than 40 RM/kilo, putting it right up on the extravagance shelf with Musang King.
The afternoon before we were scheduled to depart on the durian trip, I got one of the worst phone calls a wannabe durian muncher can get.
No Black Thorn, said the farmer. We’ve got to cancel.
Luckily, I had a Plan B. Actually, I had a Plan C too. Which was lucky, because in a year like 2016’s durian drought, we ended up at Plan C.
668 Durian Stall in Mertajam, Kedah. I like to keep my promises.
Where is Junjong, Kedah?
Jungjong is a tiny hamlet of Chinese shop houses split between the states of Kedah and mainland Penang.
A canal runs through the city. One one side is Penang. On the other is Kedah. You can jump back and forth between the states if you want.
The durian stall is on the Kedah side. In fact, I’d driven past it a few times on my way to and from Sungei Sedim National Park, making this stall an excellent lunchtime spot for those visiting the canopy walk or hunting Durio pinangianus.
668 Durian Stall
The stall was tucked in a corner of a temple parking lot, half hidden behind political banners and Ramadan adverts and road signs pointing the way to Kulim.
It would have been difficult to find without the miracle of Googlemaps, and if we’d just been driving by on the highway I don’t think we would have noticed it at all.
There weren’t many people there, and there also weren’t many durians. I was glad I’d called ahead to make a reservation.
All they had on display were some D24s. The Black Thorn durian were hidden in a box under a table.
No one besides us dropped by to eat durian. On this particular gloomy, rainy day, the durian stall was more of an outdoor tea room for older gentlemen.
They sat around in lawn chairs, sipping dark brown chinese tea out of glasses and smoking. It was quiet except for the dripping of rain on the metal roof and their occasional bursts of uproarious laughter.
Not even the owner, Mr. Peter Lai, was there, since he away being too busy accepting an award for his durians to serve them to a couple of Ang Mohs who dropped by to be gluttonous.
But he took care of us. He’d sent us an English speaking guide named Miss Ashley and his farm worker, Ah Heng, to take us to visit his nearby farm. Luckily the weather cleared long enough to take in the stellar view.
Mr. Lai’s farm is located on a hill overlooking the Straits of Malacca. I asked what the name of the hill was, but nobody was sure.
We went in a 4×4 truck, bumping up a narrow motorcycle path, until the road got even more narrow and then we got out to walk up and up and up. We were so high we could see islands in the water, and Miss Ashley said that on a clear day we would be able to see the Penang International Airport.
On the other direction was just the rolling hills of Kulim.
I wondered how high we were, so I used my GPS watch to take a reading.
We were at about 850 feet (260 meters), higher than Bao Sheng Durian Farm.
With so few durians dropping at the farm at that time, everyone was shocked when we found a D101 hanging in a net, as if it was just waiting for us! Ah Heng scooped it out for us and gave it to us for free to take back to the stall for our feast.
But there were even more surprises waiting for us when we got back to the 668 Durian Stall.
I only know of a few places to get this wild durian species, which the guys called “Durian Bukit” or hilltop durian. None of the trees I knew about were dropping fruit yet, so I wasn’t expecting to see it at this durian stall.
It was an exciting surprise for me, and especially for my guest. I let him have all three of its cheesy, dark orange pods, and pocketed the seeds.
Up next was that D101 we found at the farm. It was so fresh the stem was still green and sticky, and the guys warned us that it was too soon to eat it. Durians when they first drop are a bit firm and sweet, without the deeper flavors and nuances that we snobs come to appreciate.
I opened it anyway; and they were right. It was too hard still. So I closed it back up and gave it a quick thrashing with the flat of the knife.
Just those few whacks rendered the insides almost too soft, so that the durian flesh almost oozed out of the shell like melted caramel. It was great.
With the distractions taken care of, we at last tucked into the Black Thorn durians, the reason we’d driven all the way out to this quiet corner of Penang/Kedah.
We started with three smallish ones, because I wanted my guest to get a good feeling for what a Black Thorn durian should taste like. Just one could be a fluke, but with three, then you know.
They said there were no more Grade A Black Thorns, but we gladly accepted Grade B for 30RM/kilo.
Black Thorn is a cross between a Thai durian and a local Kampung (seedling), so it’s got a satisfying heft that makes many people fall in love straight away.
Plus there’s that lovely salmon color that deepens to translucent orange when the tree is old and the durian is really good.
Sasha asked me what I thought, and I told him.
Ah Heng and Miss Ashley must have overheard, because just when we thought we were finished, they pulled out the best Black Thorn durian of the day.
It was a Grade A they were reserving for another customer. I felt guilty eating it until I realized how good it was. #Noshame.
We should have stopped right there, with that last strawberry rum Black Thorn tingling our tastebuds, but they offered us a last D24. Could we ever turn down a durian?
It was a good reminder that not all of the durians at 668 come from Mr. Lai’s farm on the hill. This last D24 arrived while we were sitting there. One of the gentlemen (in grey below) insisted it was fresh dropped, from that day. But the stem was old, like maybe the day before. We went back and forth until Ah Heng stepped in and agreed with me. It was a day-old durian.
I didn’t like it, and didn’t eat it.
Time flies…when there are too many flies
The thing you can’t see in my photos are our hands waving over the durians to keep away the flies. This stall had a crazy amount of flies, so many that our growing pile of durian seeds turned black with crawling bodies. There were so many flies that we asked for containers to stack over our open durians.
Most exciting for me was that unexpected Durio graveolens. They’re kind of hard to find, and it was a real treat to be able to share one with Sasha.
The last Black Thorn we had was truly excellent, but the first two were just okay. If we hadn’t had that last Grade-A fruit I would have left a little sad for Sasha that he didn’t get to really taste the oomph of a really good Black Thorn durian.
I think your experience as a walk-in will depend a lot on who is at the stall when you arrive and whether you convince them that you can appreciate top grade fruits. I appreciated that Ah Heng was honest about the freshness of the D24, but the other guy was not. I may be an ang moh, but I’m not durian dumb, and as a reader of this blog, you aren’t either.
It’s always good to have a Plan C in your pocket should you ever be in a pinch for some Black Thorn, and if you’re up for a little adventure into the more unknown parts of Malaysia, head out to 668.
Getting to 668 Durian
The stall is located along Hwy 145 on the border of the provinces of Penang and Kedah.
Call ahead: 012-466-6698