I ended up falling in love with Kuching. I didn’t mean to — in fact, I told myself not to, because I knew I couldn’t stay. But the more I spent time in this cat-obsessed city along a meandering river, the more I loved it’s narrow quirky lanes, murals, funny little shops, Chinese-fusion cuisine, random cat statues, and of course, the plethora of morning wet markets well stocked with exotic jungle fruit goodies unlike anywhere else in the world. There’s a video at the bottom of this post showing clips from each market.
Kuching feels crumbly and historic, a humble little city that gained charm even as it’s power waned.
Once the capital of a monarchy ruled inexplicably by a British family (okay, the Bruneian empire gave it to them), Kuching has an unusual history and a diverse culture renown for art and food. Wandering the streets, it felt almost like Penang to me, but quieter, gentler, less polluted, and filled with more art about cats.
A mile-long esplanade stretches along the river, dominated by a large gold-peaked parliament building which is NOT the palace. The palace is next door, a squat little building over a hundred years old, barely visible on its manicured green river bank. It’s fun to imagine the city as the Queen would have seen it, when she arrived from England in , to embrace a very different life. She mentions durian 3 times in her memoir, My Life in Sarawak, but doesn’t discloses whether or not she and the Rajah enjoyed it.
Read my article about Kuching’s signature dish, Kolo Mee, here.
But fruit itself is hard to come by in all those walk-able alleys and cute cat cafes. If you were a regular beer and coffee-swilling tourist, you might stroll through Kuching, buy your indigenous baubles, and leave without ever realizing there are bizarre-smelling marang relatives, concord-grape-juice pulasans, creamy-cheesy engkalas, and a bunch of other fruits you’d never imagine come from Planet Earth.
Besides two small fruit and durian stalls (listed below and on the map), all the fruit hunting must be done at the fruit markets outside of the downtown — which are plentiful.
Scroll down for 8 Kuching markets ↓
Kuching has a tidy downtown along the river with many small, cutesie hostels at very reasonable prices. Kuching is, overall, cheaper than Peninsular Malaysia. A friend of mine stayed in the dormitories at the DIY Dorm and had a good experience, and a few years ago I stayed at Singgahsana Lodge and was impressed with how clean, comfortable and artsy it was.
But since this last trip I was staying three weeks in Kuching, I decided to get an Airbnb near Petanak Market. I figured this would be as good a place as any to commence my durian hunt. I was a little bit wrong.
Kuching is spread out. The downtown may be cutesie and walkable, but the city is big. More than 160,000 people live in Kuching and it sprawls for miles away from the river down the the large highway toward Serian. This highway is the artery of the city, and many of the markets are named for their mile-post marker along it (3 mile, 7 mile, 10 mile, 17 mile, etc).
The bus station is inconveniently located just next to the airport, at around 6 miles from the city. Luckily, Uber drivers are plentiful in Kuching and startling cheap. A trip from the airport to our apartment near Petanak market cost just 12RM for a 30-minute drive. It’s so cheap it almost feels wrong, like buying jeans from a factory in China. But it’s also a thing to be grateful for in Kuching, because despite it’s sprawling nature, you can go just about anywhere without stretching your budget too far.
And you’ll need to Uber to get out to these markets.
So we’re all about the durian here, there’s no denying it. But Kuching has a lot of other fruits you should explore too. Here are just a few of the fruity highlights to tantalize your taste buds in Kuching.
This is a species of durian I sometimes call the Pineapple Durian or Bubblegum durian. Sweet and waxy, it tastes very different from the durian you’re accustomed to. It’s also quite a bit lower in fat! A normal durian has about 30% of it’s calories from fat, while Durio kutejensis has just 10%.
You can spy them by their small size, yellow-colored thorns, and the way they look like 5-petaled flowers from the top with all their lobes sticking out.
Many people who dislike durian actually like these, especially the young/unripe versions, which have a pale orange flesh and are even a bit crispy. If allowed to ripen on the tree, they’ll turn a dark, fiery orange and develop a delicious white-chocolate creaminess.
Where: I spied these at 7-mile market.
One of my top favorites, orange or yellow D. graveolens are dense and peanut-butter creamy. Unlike D. kutejensis, these are higher in fat than normal durian, and you can totally tell! Sticky, sweet, with a weird alcoholic zing, I could eat these all day.
You can recognize them by their small size, perfect round shape, close knit green thorns, and a tiny nub of a stem that may be so small you can’t hold it.
Where: I spied these at MJC Market
This sweet-sour, fluffy fruit tastes like a very big rambai. The flesh sticks to the seed and has that same weird, marshmallowy quality that I personally love. Locals call them “forest starfruits,” even though they’re not even close to related to the actual Starfruit.
I wouldn’t personally choose to eat a lot of these, but they’re a fun snack while wandering the market, and a beautiful fruit.
Where: MJC Market, 7-Mile, and Satok Weekend Market.
Bambangan (Mangifera pajang)
One of my favorite fruit in all this world, the large Pajang or Bambangan mango is an odd creature. They vary widely in flavor and texture, from so stringy and juicy you basically have to suck on them without chewing, to dense and satisfyingly meaty. The flavor can be burn-your-lips sour, a bit peppery or pizza-like, or sweet and savory like the best basil-herbal gelato. I love these things.
Luckily, they’re relatively easy to find. They look like enormous brown cannonballs or dinosaur eggs, sometimes grayish with cracks or scarring.
Be careful of the peel, as it contains a sap that will burn your skin and is the reason I took so few photos of myself in Sarawak — one overeager bite too close to that skin and I had a large, ugly scab across my cheek and chin. Peel them with a knife and then enjoy!
Where: I saw the most at MJC Market and Satok Market.
Cempedak is another of my top fruits. A good one sends orange or yellow juice trickling down your forearms as you bask in its soft, intense honey-lemon sweetness. It’s a relative of the jackfruit, and can interbreed with jack pretty freely, but is not the same thing. Just try it.
Cempedaks looks like small, lumpy jackfruits with a smooth skin. They are light greenish brown when ripe, and turn orangey-brown as they become overripe. Test them by squeezing them for give/springiness and smelling them for a very strong aroma.
Where: The best selection was at 7-mile or E-Mart, but I saw them at MJC and Satok too, as well as the two fruit stands in town that are pinned on the map below.
One of my top reasons to go to Sarawak would be to eat Dabai. These things are addictive, truly “moreish” if I can use the Australian slang. When they’re around, I can’t stop eating them.
Sometimes known as tropical olives, Dabai are fatty fruits with a delectable nutty savoriness. You have to soften them in hot water before eating, as I show in this Instagram video.
They sell them in various “tiers” by price. Cheaper ones tend to be small, with barely any flesh to soften. Larger ones are meatier but can have less flavor. Shoot for the middle.
Where: I found them everywhere except Petanak Market (of course ?), but the widest variation in quality was at Satok Weekend Market.
My friend Daniela goes wild for these elfin pinks, so I’m always on the look out for them even though I have personally not developed a liking for them yet. They’re soft and creamy as cheesecake inside, pure white or slightly greenish, and the flavor is just strange. It’s cheesy, I think, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had cheese.
The trick to these is that they must be beaten and bruised and then left for 10-15 minutes before eating, otherwise they taste spicy and will likely make your throat hurt.
Where: I found these at Satok Market, MJC and Stutong Market.
Another fruit that I inexplicably love, tampois look like brown mangosteens with a little stem attached. But they’re not in the same family and don’t taste the same at all.
Tampoi can be white or yellow inside, are sweet with a hint of acid that makes them very delicious. They have the same marshmallowy texture of all the Bauccareas, but they’re bigger, so more to eat.
Where: MJC Market, 7-mile market, Satok Weekend Market
Terap (Artocarpus odoratissimus)
Since we’re on a roll with my favorites, I love terap. These queens are melt-in-your-mouth vanilla, so sweet it’s like someone made a cake juicy.
They’re a relative of jackfruit and cempedak, but taste very different. They’re covered in a skin composed of hairs that act like velcro, sticking to your clothes, plastic bags, or whatever comes nearby.
When ripe, they should feel slightly squishy to your hands, smell strongly, and the hairs will tear away easily. You don’t need a knife for this fruit — just dig in!
Where: The best selection was at E-Mart. I barely saw them otherwise.
These are rambutan’s tastier cousins. They’re juicier, sweeter, and taste a lot like concord grapes. I do actually prefer them to rambutans, but they’re often so hard to find.
These can be recognized because they look like rambutans but they don’t have any hair. They’re just bumpy. They’re also easier to open — just twist them in half.
Where: Satok Weekend Market, Stutong Market
These are another relative of tampoi and belimbing hutan. They’re atually more common, and you can find them in Thailand and peninsular Malaysia too. I really like them as a snack. They’re small and sweet-tart, and and the flesh clings inseparable to their small seeds. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t swallow seeds you could find them really frustrating to eat.
Where: MJC Market, 7-Mile Market
There are a lot of markets in Kuching and it is always fun to go.
I’ve focused on fruit in this blog, but obviously there are a lot of other snacks to nibble as your peruse the markets for interesting goodies.
Petanak Central Market
Having the word “Central” in the name makes it seem extra special and big, right? Wrong.
I selected my Airbnb in Kuching in part because it was a quarter-mile walk from Petanak Market, so that’s where I headed my first morning in Kuching.
Woe to me, it was already 10 am and the produce part of the market was shutting down for the day.
Like all markets in the Kuching area (except MJC), the Petanak Market takes place in a large, two-story building with tiled white floors, rows of stainless steel counters, and no walls. It’s outdoors, in a covered, protected kind of way.
One wing of the down stairs houses the raw meats section, while another protects the aisles of produce. Upstairs, a cafeteria of hawker stalls comes alive after 6 or 7 pm. I later found out they sold sugar cane juice up there, and became a regular.
In general, Petanak Market may earn the title of Worst Fruit Market in Kuching. It was useful for buying broccoli and cabbage, and had I wanted fresh fish or chicken it would have been perfect. But since I was looking for exotic Borneo fruits, I immediately wrote off the 30-year-old market and began looking elsewhere.
What I found there: Very little of fruity interest. Imported fruit, papayas, bananas, vegetables.
When to go: Early morning, between 6-9:30 am
Where: This is the market closest to the downtown, on Jalan Petanak. It’s about a one-mile walk, but I’m not sure why you would bother unless you were staying nearby anyway.
GPS: 1.55738, 110.36001
Satok Weekend Market
I wrote a whole blog post about this market.
Satok market is the most famous in Kuching, and by far the biggest. It’s perhaps the largest outdoor fruit and vegetable market I’ve ever been to, and if you get there early on a Saturday you will have a bounty of goodies to comb through. This is easily a market where you can spend half a day just perusing the jungle produce.
The market is enormous, with multiple buildings and stalls spread out along the sidewalks. There’s a section for plants and nursery, packaged snacks and spices, fish, meat, imported fruits like oranges and apples and kiwis, a food court, another food area, and vegetables, and then the fruit and odd jungle produce scattered all around.
The most interesting fruits are mostly in the enormous, open-air halls at the back of the market. There are two of them, separated by a very congested throughway for cars, motorbikes, and throngs of people. DO NOT TRY TO DRIVE THROUGH HERE. Have your Uber meet you somewhere outside the market and walk out, or you will grow old and die in the jam.
What I found there: Durio zibethinus, engkala, lots of coconuts, asam paya, dabai, stink bean, lots of gingers, ramput laut seaweed, bison horn banana, lots of stuff.
When to go: Friday evening after 6pm and all day Saturday and Sunday, but best Saturday morning.
Where it is: If you type “Satok Market” into Googlemaps, you’ll get a pin to the market’s old location and a notification that it’s permanently closed. It’s not; it just moved 5 km away across the river to an area called Kubah Ria. Type in “Medan Niaga Satok” to find it, or follow the map below ↓
GPS: 1.55474, 110.3212
This strip of fruit stalls on the rim of a large shopping center opens in the late afternoon. They sell piles of dodgy-looking durians, but there’s an abundance here you won’t find anywhere else in the city. Comb through them carefully and you’ll find something good.
Importantly, they also sell terap, cempedak, dabai, and other jungle oddities. Prices are reasonable, but rarely posted. It’s worth asking for a discount.
What I found there: Rambutans, longkongs, Durio zibethinus, cempedaks, teraps, dabai
When to go: Evenings after about 3 pm
Where: E-Mart is about 3 km further up the road from Satok Weekend Market, in the Matang area. Remember to tell your Uber driver Matang, or they may get confused.
GPS: 1.57185, 110.30276
Third Mile Market (Pasar Sungai Maong)
I arrived to 3-mile market a little bit late to see the action. It’s technically open all day, from 5 am to 11 pm, but most of the fruit stalls close down in the middle of the day. The main building was completely empty, which was probably fine since it looked like it was all fish and meat products anyway.
The small collection of fruit sellers in the parking lot looked sleepy. I saw pineapples and pomelos, longkong, plenty of coconuts, some jungle herbs and ferns, and what I’d come for, durian.
I’d mostly come to visit Thomas Teo, a durian grower and seller who was the first person I ever contacted back in 2011, over Skype, from a wavering connection in Costa Rica. It was amazing to meet him after all these years.
He sells his many varieties of durian at the 3-mile market every day of the durian season. You can see the full list of varieties on his website, artsborneo.com or place an order for pick-up by contacting him at +60 016 899 5596.
Look for a blog post about Thomas’s farm next week.
What I found there: Some fruits, plenty of coconuts, Thomas and his durians
When to go: mornings before 11 AM or late aternoon
Where: Third Mile Market or 3-Mile Market or 3rd Mile Market is located at the 3rd mile marker of Jalan Haji Taha, which becomes the A150 and the main highway to the airport, the central bus station, and onwards to Serian and the rest of Sarawak. It’s located nearby a lot of malls, so is somewhat more conveniently located, but unless you’re just coming to pick up some durians from Thomas, your time is best spent going straight to 7-Mile Market.
GPS: 1.51992, 110.33526
Seven Mile Market (Pasar Kota Sentosa)
There’s a plenty of fruit inside the main two-story building too, but you might not ever get that far. There’s too many piles of jungle exotics stretched out on tarps along the parking lot. Her you’ll find almost everything wild your heart desires (except terap) — piles of cempedaks, wild durians, jackfruits, dabai, coconuts, stink beans, tampoi, pulasan, I mean really everything — all of it mixed up into little piles by individual sellers.
You may never even feel tempted to go onwards, beyond, to the jungle markets of Serian when the pickings are this good so close to town.
Inside the market building, you’ll find lots and lots and lots of bananas, of all different sorts, as well as all the imported fruit stuffs like oranges, apples and grapes so craved by locals. Here you’ll also find all the morning sweet ricekuih, many of them vegan. It’s a good spot to try some local food too!
Across the parking lot is a building specializing in coconuts, coconut oil, milk, and fresh ones. The guys there are really funny and nice, so make sure to add a coconut stop to your 7-mile market adventure.
I was really impressed both times I came to visit 7-Mile Market, and would definitely rate this as one of the top 2 fresh fruit markets in Kuching.
What I found there: All The Things (except terap) — pulasan, coconuts, sugar cane, cempedaks, Durio kutejensis, Durio zibethinus, jungle ferns, lots of banana types, lots of coconuts, sugar cane juice
When to go: Mornings every day before 10AM
Where it is: At the 7th mile marker of the AH150 highway heading out of Kuching, 3.5 km from the airport and 1.5 km from the Central Bus Station.
GPS: 1.4706, 110.33096
Ten Mile Market (Pasar Kota Padawan)
This petite market has a lot of interesting vegetables, but is fruit-lite. I was intrigued by a lot of the jungle ferns, the Iban eggplants, the racks of lemongrass and gingers and nuts I didn’t recognize, and the sago-worms and weird kinds of pickles, but disappointed not to find very much that was sweet.
This is also definitely a market to visit in the morning, before 10 or 11 AM.
It’s also pretty far out of town — 10 miles to be precise — and since you’re passing the opulent 7-mile market on the way there’s not much reason to look at this one unless you need a pit stop on your way to Serian.
What I found there: Vegetables, herbs and spices
When to go: Mornings every day before 10AM
Where it is: At the 10th mile marker of the AH150 highway heading toward Serian
GPS: 1.42651, 110.32536
The market is loud. There are generators running, sugar cane juice grinding, music playing, lots of people talking, and smoke from barbecues blowing everywhere.
It’s a maze of stalls, just tables covered by dipping and swaying tarps, and so colorful and vibrant you could get lost staying in one place. I love it it at this market.
The MJC Thursday and Friday market is an evening pop-up market. It appears over the course of an afternoon, dominates the parking lot, and then disappears. Unlike the other markets in Kuching, there is no solid 2-story building to mark it or shelter it from the inevitable dumping afternoon rain.
Everything and anything seems to show up at this market, and in terms of durian it’s the absolute best. Trunk loads of durian sprawl around the outskirts of the market, offloaded from cars parked nearby. Inside, I found two stalls selling my personal fav, Durio graveolens, right next to bambangans bigger than my head and a pomelo weighing no less than 5kg. Sweet smelling cempedaks were being sold right next to belimbing hutans and tampois next to gingers and ferns.
A guy sat on the ground deshelling unripe durians for cooking into curries too. I know this is popular in some parts of Borneo, but it was the only market I saw selling unripe durian in Kuching.
I could have stayed for hours looking around, eating, and filling my hands with bags of things I wanted to taste or was excited about eating.
And that’s without even looking at the many assortment of local cooked dishes mixed among the fray, or the clothin and housewares scattered between piles of jungle produce.
This was my favorite market in Kuching, and one I think you should add to your itinerary during the fruiting season.
What I found there: Every weird thing your heart desires (except terap): bambangan mangoes, durio graveolens, lots of durio zibethinus, all the fruits, all the weird jungle herbs and eggplants, sago worms and other native delicacies.
When to go: Thursday and Friday afternoons after 4 pm
Where it is: At Bandar Baru Batu Kawa neighborhood, about 3.5 km to the east of 3rd mile market on the A150 highway heading eding to the eastern tip of Sarawak.
GPS: 1.51574, 110.30781
The market was so quiet I could hear an old man rustling newspapers among his guavas. It was also eerily clean, and orderly, and downright nice. I could take my mother here, and she wouldn’t wrinkle up her nose at weird smells or worry about getting her feet wet with fish water.
Stutong Market is a neighborhood daily market where people come to pick up their groceries and chitchat. The stalls are arranged in zigzagging rows, so you have to pass every stall to get from one side of the large, solid, rectangular market.
The downstairs has all your fresh produce, the middle has spices, herbs and dry goods, and the other side has the fish and meats, and a little jungle produce beyond that. It’s all tidily labeled with signs hanging from the ceiling.
It’s a beautiful market with good variety, but to be honest, a little on the boring side.
What I found there: coconut heart, wax jambu, bananas of all sorts, jungle ferns and herbs, good tangerines, coconuts, asam paya. Limited on fruit variety.
When to go: mornings before 12pm
Where: Stutong Morning Market is in a nice neighborhood in west Kuching. It’s pretty far from the tourist district, and not on the way anywhere, so if you’re not staying nearby it’s unlikely you’ll bother taking a trip here.
GPS: 1.51922, 110.37826
After visiting 8 markets and two durian stalls in Kuching, I would say that my favorite market was the MJC Thursday and Friday market. It didn’t have the big established building, but it was huge and rambling and filled with so many surprises. I felt it had the best diversity of wild fruits, plus tons of interesting local foods and a fun vibe. Also: Durio graveolens and really good regular durian.
The market worth a complete miss is Petanak Market, ironically the only one walkable from my Airbnb. Although it covered the basic grocery haul, there was none of the fun fruits I’d come all the way to Borneo to taste. I can get watermelons and broccoli anywhere.
If you have time, and fruit hunting is your gig, you might as well explore as many market as you can before you head out to Serian and Thomas’s farm.
Guide to Kuching Markets
Use this interactive map to explore Kuching City’s durian digs and also the rest of Malaysia.
The red pins indicate a durian market, farm, stall, or point of interest, and most are have a Blog Link in the description so you can hop all over this blog in your pursuit of durian!!