Durian has a wonderful knack for bringing out grins and giggles. But not all cultures approach smiles the way we tooth-happy Americans do, as I learned this summer when my durian guests were Russians.
“Russians are not like Americans, grinning about nothing just for a picture,” Sasha explained sympathetically. “You can see in this picture, I am less Russian because I am smiling.”
This was at the 2016 Jawi Durian Festival in August, where I took the Russian durian lovers for two or three or four or five rounds of Black Thorn.
They’d hired me to take them on a private durian tour of Malaysia, a five-day smorgasbord of the best orchards in season. They both seemed happy with the Black Thorn, and consumed over 20 kilos in one sitting, but only Sasha smiled.
It was the same when I took them to Raub Durian Orchard for Eddie’s Tekka and Musang King. Sasha smiled. The more-Russian Russian didn’t.
As a professional people-pleaser, it made me nervous. I studied his face as he ate, as he walked through the orchards, and in the rearview mirror. I couldn’t gage how happy he was with his tour.
It didn’t help that only Sasha spoke English, so as I listened to them tossing my name around in the soft tumble of Russian consonants, I had no idea if he was complaining or raving about the latest durian conquest.
But maybe we Americans give away our smiles too easily, meaninglessly, because when my stoic Russian guest finally got giddy with durian-happiness, I knew that the Karak durian farm I’d taken them to was particularly, exceptionally good.
Even though I had nothing to do with the quality of the durian or the pleasantness of the farm’s owner, Michael, I felt proud, pleased, and let’s be honest: relieved.
Michael had the durians lined up for us on the table when we arrived. He had a lot of durian, because I’d warned him about our stomach capacity for good durian.
I saw the durians, and breathed a sigh of relief. Everything was gonna be okay.
I had actually planned to take my Russians to nearby Karak Organic Durian Farm because I thought they had good D24, but in a stroke of heat-luck, Karak Organic Durian Farm had a very, very late season this year, and they had no durians at all when we were rolling through.
That this Karak durian farm had durian, and plenty of it, was very, very lucky.
Michael started us off with a round or three of D101 with a beautiful, buttery luminescence. I lost track of how many D101’s after the first two.
They were really good quality, with a light, soft texture and almost no fiber.
I had a bad chest cold that day, so I wasn’t very hungry. I mostly watched and enjoyed using my new camera to catch the way the noon-day sunlight caught the translucent gold of the supple durian flesh.
Michael stood over the durians, waving away flies and chatting amicably with the guys. His English is perfect.
They enjoyed the D101’s, but since they’d already experienced D101 at a number of other farms, they were eager to see if Michael had anything new ready for them.
He had something new, and pretty special. In Sasha’s words, it was the “durian that melted his face.” He meant the durian that made even a Russian finally smile.
The White Russian
“This one’s just kampung,” Michael said, meaning that the tree was an unnamed seedling. “But we like it.”
It was milky, and sweet, with a good solid alcoholic punch at the end. It reminded me of the Capri durian in Penang, but with less banana rum flavor and more creamer and vodka.
It was so good, even Michael couldn’t resist digging out a piece for himself.
The guys had already been enjoying their durian, but as soon as Michael was on board eating durian, dynamics changed. Everyone relaxed.
Maybe it was the hint of vodka in the durian, or the camaraderie, but the guys were being goofy. Even the unflappable Russian was being silly, trying to possessively snatch the unnamed kampung away from Sasha.
We were all laughing, so in honor of the durian that made even the Russian smile, I suggested we give it a name. Why not? So many other high quality kampungs are given names — like Ginger King, or Monkey, or Green Apple. Some of them even become popular and sought out. I didn’t see why Michael’s kampung couldn’t become a house special.
I called it the “White Russian,” after an alcoholic beverage that combines vodka and milk. There’s already a precedent for naming durians after fine liquors (XO), and I love things with double or even triple meanings.
Will the name stick? I don’t know. But if you go to Michael’s farm you can ask for it, and see what happens.
But we weren’t done with the degustation yet, and so we continued on through the durians to one of the most bitter, the Tekka.
Tekka is a classic durian of connoisseurs. If you ask for a Tekka, durian sellers will start to take you seriously.
It’s a thick, sticky, bitter durian with a strong aroma. Unfortunately with my chest cold my nose was mostly out of commission, but I had a piece anyway. It looked too good to resist.
The guys enjoyed it, but after the White Russian it wasn’t as impressive. Maybe the two durians should have been eaten in reverse order, Tekka first, followed by the White Russian.
The guys finished up with Musang King that they proclaimed was the best of the trip. Remember, this was a five-day durian smorgasbord. By this time, they were pretty familiar with Musang King.
I had to agree. There was something really special about Michael’s Musang King.
Where Musang King can sometimes have a flat, deflated look, each section of Michael’s durian held fat and luxurious mounds of dark yellow flesh. What I noticed was that it was more moist than many Musang King I have had, without being watery.
It was like the difference between a brownie you buy at a store, and a brownie straight out of the oven.
Each section was encased in a skin so delicate that our fingers punctured and sunk through to the miniscule seed below.
The moisture, though, didn’t reduce the overall stickiness and rich, cookie-dough flavor.
The guys could have eaten themselves under the table on Michael’s Musang King. Later, Slava said he would return next year and buy all of them, for the whole year.
Mesta Mangosteens (Jepun)
We finished our durian day with another treat I didn’t expect to find: Mesta, a type of mangosteen with a pointed bottom. Mesta is pretty uncommon in Thailand or Malaysia, the flat-bottomed mangosteen being more normal.
Mesta does taste a bit different, with a firmer, crunchier flesh and a slightly higher acidity, which gave the mangosteens more flavor.
I was a big fan of Michael’s mesta, and I was hugely pleased when later I went to the Philippines and discovered that there it’s the reverse: pointy mangosteens are more common than flat-bottomed ones. It’s weird sometimes how the world works.
Or what it takes to make a Russian durian lover smile.
Why I think He Smiled
We wrapped up our durian feast faster than we would have liked, as Michael needed to deliver the rest of his durians to customers in Klang.
The guys were sad to leave the farm and their new favorite durians, including the one now named for them.
But since making people fabulously, ecstatically durian happy is sort of my job now, I was left with a question. What made Michael’s farm such a different experience for my Russian than the other farms? Why did he dissolve into glee here, but nowhere else?
Sure, the durian was overall fantastic, and the Musang King and White Russian made it stand out from other farms we’d visited, but what else was different about our experience at Michael’s farm?
About Lucky Durian Farm
Call me a romantic, but I think love makes the difference. In 2011, Michael purchased the durian farm for his wife, for no reason other than that she liked durian. Beat that for Valentine’s Day, guys.
The farm is their hobby, a place they come to because they like it, and not because they’re trying to rip a Musang King profit from exporting to Singapore or China.
We parked in front of the white farmhouse, which was tidy and clean, tucked away over a kilometer from the nearest paved road. The patio is set with two huge construction spools set on end as tables, which gives it a relaxed, rustic, comfy feel.
Fans kept away the flies, while signs marked the individual tree varieties and warned customers about the dangers of falling durians.
Overall, it just felt well-thought out. It was clean and practical, and because we visited on a day Michael is normally closed, we didn’t have to knock elbows with other customers or fight for Michael’s attention. He was relaxed, eating durian with us, and joking with the guys.
And all of us durian lovers know that good durian and good company is a recipe for happiness.
Go to Lucky’s Durian Farm
You need a little bit of an adventurous spirit to get to Michael’s durian farm. The farm is about an hour and a half drive east of Kuala Lumpur. Since we stayed at Suria Hotsprings, it was only about 30 minutes away for us.
Following the map below or the GPS pin will take you to the turning point where you leave the tarmac road, not the farm itself. You need to continue down the dirt track for about 1.5 km.
The gravel road is well graded and looks like this:
GPS: 3.464096, 102.042068