When Tan Hock Hoe’s grandfather purchased the plot of land in the narrow valley along a freshwater stream, no one told him about the old stone house he would find there. Neither the house nor the old durian trees were on the deed. The land was supposed to be undeveloped jungle.
Even today, hikers routinely get lost in Penang’s forested hillsides. You can imagine that in 1953, when his grandfather bought the parcel, it was even more wild. The British were busy clashing with guerrillas from “communist terrorist organizations” who wanted liberation from the Empire. Newspapers were filled with headlines like this.
The house was a mystery.
“Can you imagine moving all this stone?” Mr. Tan asked us as we sat in the shade of the porch.
The house was built out of the same dark granite boulders that dot the Penang hillsides. By who, and when, is anyone’s guess. Mr. Tan thinks it must be several hundred years old, built by one of the earliest settlers to that part of the island.
Whoever they were, they didn’t have the assistance of cranes and trucks and bobcats when they built the house.
It’s now been renovated and painted a tropical shade of pale blue. In the 1970’s, Mr. Tan’s family moved in from their home above their coffee shop in the nearby village (now closed).
He lives there with his young family, tending the 5 acres of durian trees surrounding the property and another 11 acres that he rents to supply his durian customers.
The house and history is interesting, but of course, it was the durians that brought my group down the hill to his to farm.
Last year, he converted the farm from a MyGAP (Malaysian Good Agricultural Practice) certification to organic. We like organic.
Plus, I’d been there before. I remembered how nice Mr. Tan was. He speaks perfect English. And his durians are always good enough to write home about. Here are a few of the varieties we had one quiet afternoon at Stonehouse Durian Farm.
D14 has an intimidating look. It’s thorns are the biggest and bulkiest on Penang, so exaggeratedly wide they make the durian look like a caricature of a durian instead of the real thing.
But Stone House D14 may be one of my favorite durians in Penang. It’s gorgeously soft and smooth, with a rich nuttiness and plenty of aromatic gases that fill your mouth with each bite. It’s also pretty fleshy, so even though it tends not to have that many pods in each fruit, there’s still plenty to savor with each bite.
I have this durian recorded as 369 in my notes, although I’ve never heard of it anywhere else. It must be one of the old durian varieties still hanging around Penang
Little Red or Xiao Hong
Stonehouse is just a stone’s throw away from the original Little Red mother tree, so it makes sense that his are very good. The color was deeper than it often is in Little Red, but it had the same mild, floral sweetness and incredible smoothness that make Little Red many people’s favorite durian. Personally I like something with a little more punch to it, but this one was obviously from an old tree and about as good as it gets for Little Red.
This one intrigued us with it’s slight fibrousness. You can see the strands in the photo as we pulled apart the pods to share the durian.
The fibers gave it a very different mouth feel than Little Red, which we basically had to slurp. This one was rich and full-bodied, a bit sticky but definitely chewable.
It’s called Egg Yolk more for the color, but it also had a slightly more egg-like flavor than a lot of durians in Penang. It’s probably higher in sulfur content. It was a nice and interesting contrast to the other sweeter, more floral durians common in Penang.
I actually lost my notes for this durian. That happens sometimes in the mad scramble of a group durian degustation.
But isn’t it pretty?
Black Thorn and Musang King
One of Mr. Tan’s endearing habits is to throw in something surprising and delightful at the end. We had basically finished and were sitting around, contentedly licking our fingers, when he regaled us a very small Black Thorn and a very small Musang King.
These are Penang’s most expensive durians, and as tiny as they were the gift was not lost on us. Years ago, he was the first person to introduce me to Black Thorn through his generosity.
If you want to try Musang King and Black Thorn, this farm is a good option.
Getting to Stone House Durian Farm (Rumah Batu)
Stonehouse Durian Farm is located at the foot of the mountains on the Balik Pulau-side.
To get there, drive toward Teluk Bahang from Balik Pulau. Turn left at Kampong Sungei Pinang, and take the first right back behind the village along the bottom of the valley. After about 1km you’ll see Stonehouse Durian Farm on your right.
If these direction seem confusing, just use the map below. You can also use this map to find other durian spots nearby or around Malaysia.
Stonehouse is pretty popular, so make sure to make a reservation with Mr. Tan before you go.
Phone number: 012-5385128