Another Kuala Lumpur durian stall? Of course! Durian is to K.L. what hot dogs are to New York, especially when it’s durian season. As even hot dog connoisseurs know, the most famous places to get your D aren’t in the downtown. They’re in the suburbs.
As I’m getting more comfortable in Malaysia, I’m also getting braver and more curious about the residential areas surrounding the central core where I always stay. I usually stay in cheap backpacker digs in the most touristy of all touristville — the Grocer’s Inn in Chinatown — which is where you should definitely not buy durian unless it’s from Emile’s truck in a desperate pinch.
I like staying in Chinatown because it’s easy to get everywhere. One evening I hopped on the LRT and rode the train to a district called Ampang Jaya to meet some new friends at yet another Kuala Lumpur durian stall.
Thanks to Aziz for the recommendation on this one.
About Ampang Jaya
Ampang is an administrative area, like a district, on the far east side of Kuala Lumpur, bordering the district of Hulu Langat where I found all those tantalizing wild Durio lowianus.
It’s not to be confused with the area around Ampang Park Mall on Jalan Ampang, which is where a lot of the embassies are located including the Thai and British embassies. Wikipedia gets these two areas confused, which is really too bad for everyone hoping for an easy durian lunch on their visa run. The Thai embassy is a good 9km from Soon Huat Durian Stall. Sorry.
The Durian Stall
Soon Huat Durian is one of a two durian stalls in a row of white tents on Jalan Cempaka, a big busy street almost the size of a highway. The other stall I saw there was called Zulpia Durian, which does have a Facebook page but not much online presence in the blogosphere. Either it hasn’t yet been discovered, or people are too distracted by Soon Huat.
The tents were roomy inside, and I had a feeling they would fare more comfortably in a rainstorm than Say Heng Durian Stall. It was already busy when I arrived around 7, so I quickly nabbed two bags of mangosteens and the last three empty tables, which I pulled together for what I expected would be a rather large group.
The group was late, so I had a chance to talk for a few minutes with Pang, whose family runs the stall.
My friend Richard, an Australian I met at the Chanthaburi Durian Symposium, happened to be in town that night for a fruit fly conference. He’d talked a bunch of other Australian fruit fly specialists to come with him to the durian stall.
Finally, people with a stranger career choice than me. I had a feeling we’d get along.
The pickings for durians was not very exciting. They had only four varieties priced from
- Kaki Buloh
- Musang King
We of course sampled them all. There were enough of us, who were hungry enough, that we had to get multiples of each.
The only durian I hadn’t heard of before was Kaki Buloh, so we decided to start with that one.
“I think it’s just the same as Tekka,” said Loh when I insisted on Kaki Buluh as my choice for the evening. I knew he was probably right.
Later, I looked it up on google translate. In Bahasa Malayu, kaki means “leg,” and buluh means “bamboo.” So yes, this durian is Bamboo Leg, the same as Tekka.
Which was obvious as soon as they opened the durian. The off-yellow, burnt custard coloration and that weirdly thick core with the rust-colored “drain” down the middle are all signs of Tekka.
It was good, but really nothing to write home about unless you happen to write for a durian blog. Haha.
The D18 was much better, and perhaps the one I thought was highest quality that night. D18 is obviously a Thai durian, a round thing with big grey-brown thorns.
Inside it is has a nice amber-orange color with the flesh that is very soft and has a gentle, almost berry-like fruitiness in its whipped cream.
D24 was also very good that night, with its satisfying combination of heft and stickiness. I don’t know why, but D24 always feels like one of the densest, most cookie-dough like durians.
Actually I do know. Analysis shows that D24 is one of the durians highest in saturated fat, which our taste buds just love. They also have a good shelf-life, meaning they often taste fresher than other durians available on the stand.
Of course, the group had to taste Musang King. They purchased only two of them, because at that time Musang King was going for over 40 RM per kilo.
I thought the Musang King was good enough, but again nothing like what I’m used to. But then, I’m a snob. The Australians were delighted.
Then Richard announced that, since it was his birthday that night, he had a goal.
He wanted a photo of himself wearing a durian hat.
The Durian Hat
This announcement launched a discussion on how best to make a durian into a hat.
Since I had a little more experience in this particular DIY durian craft, I offered to make the hat for him. As my little b-day gift.
We selected the biggest durian we could find, comparing it to Richard’s head in the hope we’d find one that would fit. Durians don’t exactly come with their hat sizes.
Next, I set about slicing the durian in half lengthwise, like a watermelon. Immediately the durian server came over and offered to show me the correct way to open a durian, along the seams.
“No, no, it’s okay,” I smiled reassuringly, and plunged my knife deeper the wrong way. He hovered, looking vaguely anxious.
I think for durian lovers, opening a durian like the wrong way is kind of like actually walking around, in public, in a pair of jeans put on backwards with the fly open. It’s disturbing and mildly embarrassing.
As I carved further down the durian and started to hack through the central core, the table next to us started laughing hysterically, staring at us.
Soon we had the attention of everyone under the white tent.
But then we had the hat.
I’d tried to make the hat in the style of a Roman gladiator helmet. I’m not sure that was obvious, but that’s what I had in mind.
After cutting the durian in half, I’d removed each of the five dividing walls that make up the interior of the durian, and scraped them down until they were smooth and to maximize the amount of room available inside for heads.
And, with enough durian juice running through our veins and making everyone giddy, soon we were all taking turns with Richard’s birthday hat.
Even though we picked the biggest durian available, it was still a little too small for our grown-up heads. It would have been perfect for a child.
“Too bad none of us have children,” I said. Then I looked around.
“Are there any kids here?”
This made Loh laugh hysterically. “We’re so predatory, looking for children to foist our durian hat on.”
Then we were all laughing, standing in a circle around the hat. At this point, there was enough durian running through our blood streams that everything was hilarious and magical.
Then we put the hat on the biggest kid of all of us. Happy Birthday, Richard.
Soon Huat Durian is a good place for a durian party or a large gathering. They have plenty of room in a sheltered area and a bountiful supply of decent quality durians.
This isn’t a place I would take durian connoisseurs or people interested in variety. They had just the basic popular varieties available, and I thought the quality was middling.
However, it was the perfect Kuala Lumpur durian stall for our big group that didn’t have a lot of experience with durian and needed enough space for horseplay.
Soon Huat isn’t open all year, so make sure to call ahead if you suspect it’s not peak durian season.
Getting to Soon Huat Durian Stall
Since I was staying in Chinatown, I opted to take the LRT from Plaza Rakyat Station to Cempaka Station. From there it’s only a 500 meter walk.
Be aware that Google maps has you bypass Cempaka Stesen and continue onwards to the next, further station, Cahaya, which then will force you to walk an extra 1km back. Just get off at Cempaka. It’s one of those few instances left where a human brain wins over computer brawn.
Taking the train took me about 50 minutes and cost me 2.70RM. You could also take an Uber and be there in 20ish minutes, depending on traffic. I’ve found that Uber works really well in Kuala Lumpur.