The Duyaya Durian is a heavy topic. When you open it, all conversation along the table stops as durian lovers take in its rich buttery folds, bright yellow, so corpulent it practically drips over the sides of the shell. Duyaya is one of the fleshiest durians in the world. It was discovered by Severino Belviz, who passed away on Monday. This post is in honor of him, his family, and his work with durians.
Once upon a time obituaries were the most-read part of the newspaper, because they told the whole story of a human life beginning to end. People read obituaries to be inspired by what other people accomplished within a lifespan.
Because when you and me and us we’re all gonna die, we want to leave something awesome behind. Who wouldn’t feel good about leaving a few super duper durian varieties and a business specializing in durian products?
A Life in Durian
“Dreams do come true only if you work hard for it.”
Severino Belviz was born into a world that neither you nor I can quite imagine. It was 1940 in the Philippines. When he was about 1 year old, learning to toddle, the Japanese invaded and occupied the Philippines until he was old enough to start going to school.
It was during this time that his entire family relocated from Negros to Mindanao, where he started his farm. I’m not sure what happened next, because for some reason none of my high school history classes discussed the fact that other bad things happened besides the Holocaust.
In the 1960’s, Belviz went to work on a banana plantation (as of 2010, the Philippines is still in the top 3 banana producing countries in the world). He fell in love with a beautiful young girl named Rosario, for whom he later named his durian shop in Bankerohan market.
When I met him in September of 2016, he was still in love.
He did well at the banana plantation, ultimately becoming the manager of a 700 hectare plot. When the company expanded to cocoa and coffee, he was given responsibility of those plots too. But he wanted his own farm.
The problem was that Belviz didn’t have the money to buy his own land.
Back then, nobody was growing durian as a crop so he started with cocoa. He convinced a friend to lease his coconut plantation and plant cocoa between the trees. He tended the trees at night and in the early mornings before his job at the banana plantation. Things went well. Within a few years, he’d earned enough from the cocoa to buy his own 2.5 hectare plot.
Then a friend invited him to visit Thailand to study cocoa farming. They visited a durian farm as well, for fun. And the rest, I guess, is kind of Philippines history.
Belviz’s 3 Durian Varieties
From that trip, Belviz took home several hundred seeds. He planted them near Davao City, becoming one of the grandfathers of the Davao durian scene. Over the next few decades, his farm was a model for others interested in planting durian.
“Sharing your practices with others is like sharing your blessings to them.”
In 1997, the Department of Agriculture appointed him the community’s “Magsasaka-Siyentista” (Farmer-scientist), a volunteer position that gave him the responsibility of sharing his knowledge and experience with those who want to learn.
Video: Severino Belviz Tells the Duyaya Durian Story
Mr. Belviz had a very soft voice, so make sure to turn on the Subtitles to watch us talk about Duyaya and how he found it.
Registered with the FAO in 1999, the Duyaya durian made Severino a local legend. It’s one of the fleshiest durians in the world. It’s a seedling of Monthong, although who knows what it’s crossed with. That deep, orangey color certainly isn’t a characteristic of Monthong.
The first thing you notice eating Duyaya is just how immense it is. Your fingers plunge into a solid inch of cream before finding hold on the seed. When fully ripe, Duyaya is so soft and succulent that eating it is a messy affair. Bring a spoon, or be willing to lick your fingers. It’s not too sweet but not too oniony, with a nice subtle bitterness, like a light chocolate.
It’s name is a portmanteau of durian and biyaya, which means blessing.
Registered in 2000, Nanam is a lot sweeter in flavor than the Duyaya. It’s firmer, less fibrous, and has the thick yet watery texture of a hunk of soft tofu. A little bit flowery, the overall flavor profile is sweet and nutty. Dr. Songpol would approve.
Belviz called it Nanam because that’s how they say “yummy” in Visaya, his first language. But unlike Duyaya, Nanam has trouble in bad weather. It gets a bit watery and is unpredictable. So it never became as popular.
Ganyao Sulit (or just plain “Sulit”)
By 2000, Belviz was growing enough quantity of durian that he needed something to do with it.
He and Rosario founded a small durian candy business, which has since expanded into a small processing center on the side of the family’s house where they make durian candy, jams, and sauces.
When I visited, Belviz’s son Emmanual and daughter-in-law Mary Grace showed us around their small processing plant. In the photo above, Emmanual lifts the lid on the steamer where the durian jam is sealed.
It’s a small place. In one room, a woman removes durian flesh from the seed by hand, and then puts it into a mixer.
In another, two women chat while they roll the candies, called yema, into brightly colored plastic.
The Belviz’s are proud of their processing plant, because it provides good-paying jobs to the women in the community, and it allows Mary Grace to exercise her culinary creativity.
Take her durian sauce, a sweet chili pepper relish that’s as creamy as if you’d already mixed mayonnaise with it.
Or her next project: durian chocolate.
The family still grows cocoa trees intermixed with durian, and Mary Grace is finally making her own recipe of high quality chocolate. If she gets the recipe right, she might release a few durian-chocolate prototypes.
All the Rosario Delicacies are available at the family’s durian shop in Bankerohan market (post next week). It’s still there, and will continue to still be there, even though the man who started it all has gone.
You and me and every durian lover today is benefitting from the work of the generation now passing away.
These were the innovators. They created the majority of durian varieties. They started the nurseries and planted the old trees we love to get all hipster about.
When they leave us, who will step up to take their farms and nurseries? Even the Guardian is freaking out about whether global food security is “jeopardised by an old age time bomb.”
Today the average age of farmers around the world is 60 years old. Even in Africa, where 60% of the population is younger than 24 years old, the average farmer is over 60.
It’s time for our generation to step up.
And give thanks for the tools and knowledge given to us by farmers like Severino Belviz. Rest in peace.