I didn’t know Durio oxleyanus could get that much bigger than a softball until I saw it at the Keningau Night Market. The wild durians with curly green thorns were overgrown into volleyball giants.
Keningau’s Night Market was already chock full of fruity surprises, with several other jungle durians and an assortment of pretty rare fruits. But when I spotted this one, suddenly Keningau was on my durian roadmap for a pretty special durian hotspot.
Keningau is the largest city in Sabah’s interior, nestled in the deep fold of the valley between the steep walls of the Crocker Range and the Trus Madi Range. The city itself sits at around 280 meters (920 feet), but you can expect almost every durian you eat here to be from the mountains.
Long ago, before Malaysia was a British colony, Keningau was an important trading post for the British North Borneo Company, who traded in spices. The area is famous for kayu manis, a species of cinnamon (Cinnamomum burmannii), which is still the cheapest and most wildly available kind of cinnamon in the world.
The leftovers of British colonial buildings blend with old Chinese shophouses into a dense, drab, slightly rundown little city that’s easy to miss if, for whatever reason, you decide to be crazy and take the interior Keningau-Tambunan Highway.
Every other sane tourist would take the coastal road from Tenom, and skip over Keningau completely.
But if you’re a durian hunter, Keningau is a hidden gem. Step outside of the city, and it’s beautiful mountain views, rafflesia flowers, and trekking in the slightly cool weather, and durian durian durian. You’ll see more about Keningau on this blog in future posts.
An easy way to catch a glimpse of the range of durians available in Keningau is to go to the nightly evening market, or Pasar Malam Keningau.
In one short hour as the light dwindled, we caught 3 wild durians – including the biggest whopper of a Durio oxleyanus I’ve ever seen.
About the Pasar Malam/Night Market
The evening night market in Keningau takes place in a large covered space, not unlike an airplane hanger, in the very center of town.
In the daytime, the space is eerily quiet — a concrete desert with a few sleepy vendors — but suddenly and abruptly springs to life by 4PM in the evening.
Within an hour, you have to edge down the narrow aisles, bumping into other shoppers and apologizing.
Tarps are shaken out. Teraps are spread.
The ground becomes full of everything your fruit hunter heart desires; tables are unfolded and laden with wild mangos and dukus, rambutans of all colors, pulasans and vegetable ferns, wild mango pickles and tempoyak, all of it thrown together onto a table with onions and turmeric and bits of pre-chopped snake gourd.
It’s a mish-mash with plant goodies everywhere. You have to take your time, sidestepping down the aisles to examine each vendor’s separate wares.
You never know when a delicious and exotic durian is going to be propped up next to a bag of pre-pounded cassava leaf.
Some can be hard to spot.
Others, completely not.
Otak Udang Galah (Durio Graveolens)
This red-fleshed durian was propped, open and wrapped in plastic, on top of a giant pile on top of a table. It was like a stoplight, drawing the fruit hunter in for a nibble.
Otak Udang Galah is a variety of red-fleshed Durio graveolens, that’s identifiable by it’s greener-skin (as opposed to most red-fleshed graveoelns, which have yellow thorns) and it’s variegated orange-bright-bright-red flesh.
It’s sweeter than the normal red Durio graveolens, with a richer nuttiness like the hint of the caramel note of almond butter. Many red-flesh Durio graveolens taste like wax.
These were expensive. At 25/kg, this single durian came out to around RM20 ($5).
Dalit – Durio graveolens
Durian Kuning, or Dalit, is an orange-fleshed Durio graveolens that happens to be one of my very favorite durians in the world. We’d been finding lots of them all throughout the Crocker Range, from Kota Kinabalu to Keningau, so it wasn’t much of a surprise to find them here.
But it was delicious. Dalit is like licking weirdly acidic almond butter off of a smooth seed, like a dog gulping peanut butter. The sticky flesh clings to the seed, so while it looks waxy you can’t easily peel it off with your fingers. Instead you have to lick and suck and smack and be generally uncivilized. It’s fun.
Biggest Isu Durio oxleyanus I’ve ever seen
What really stopped us in our tracks was this massive, gigantuan Durio oxleyanus, known locally as Isu.
Durio oxleyanus is a species of durian with bright green, curling spines. It typically has only 4 sections, rather than 5 like a normal durian, and it’s flesh is soft, silky smooth, and has a weirdly sweet milky flavor, like the artificial flavor in milk that’s leftover from eating Honey-O cereal.
I can never decide if I like it. I think I usually don’t.
These big ones were the best version of Durio oxleyanus I’d ever tasted. The more chocolatey aspects were more obvious, and the sweetness was toned down just a bit.
They were also really fleshy for a Durio oxleyanus. Isu is usually fairly plump for a wild durian but these were the obesity epidemic.
The tree grows alone in a rubber plantation just a bit north of Keningau, and not far from Apin-Apin. We’re planning to go check it out on our next trip.
Because just from the night market, I could tell there will be many trips to Keningau.
Where We Stayed in Keningau
The first time I visited Keningau, we stayed about 20 minutes up and up out of town at the Manis Manis Rooftop of Borneo.
Manis Manis sits 3,600 feet overlooking Keningau Town. The air is cold up there, and the views are great.
We rented a house with 2 bedrooms with a living room, but you can also get a single-room chalet. The houses are very basic and threadbare, but have hot water shower, running water, and staff who carried us coffee in the morning all the way from the restaurant to our house on the hill.
Best of all, they didn’t care if we ate durian all over the table in the living room.
The second time I visited Keningau, I wanted to be able to easily walk to the night market and explore the morning tamu jungle market.
So we stayed at the Queen’s Hotel just a short walk behind town. It’s a modern, basic Western-style hotel over a reflexology center that offers the most intense and therapeutic foot massage I’ve ever experienced in Asia. When we visited, it cost RM95 per night plus Tourism Tax.
How To Get To Keningau Night Market
Keningau is located in Sabah, Malaysia. The nearest international airport is in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah’s largest city.
From Kota Kinabalu you have to travel over the Crocker Mountain Range. If you have a dinky car and a small engine, taking the southern Papar – Keningau route is kinder, but the more northern Penampang -Tambunan is more scenic.
Use the map below to locate the Keningau Night market, or navigate to other durian hotspots in Sabah and Malaysia.