I’m already thinking about 2019’s durian hunts. Aren’t you? There are so many durians I want to catch, new places and cultures to explore, and people I want to eat durian with.
I’m feeling inspired and excited heading into 2019, and a lot of that has to do with how inspiring and exciting 2018’s durian catch has been.
Here are the 9 Outstanding Durians all you #duriantourist should add to your 2019 must-eat lists to get out, have an adventure, and eat some amazing durian this coming 2019. Make your durian dreams come true!
But because all of these durians are equally outstanding, I really couldn’t put them in order. So this list is in chronological order, rather than being ranked.
So counting backward through 2018:
Suluk Haji Lamat
In December, I boarded my first 9-seater Twin Otter plane and flew from Kota Kinabalu to the small timber town of Limbang, in Sarawak.
Limbang is a very small town in the pocket of Sarawak between Main Brunei and another part of Brunei, called Temburong. It’s time consuming to get there if you decide to drive, because of all the passport stamping and border controls just to get into and out of Brunei.
But a flight on MASwings is just a 45-minute hop from either Miri or Kota Kinabalu.
But even though Limbang is a small town, it’s still a well-developed little city with electricity, cars, well-paved roads, WiFi and tons of palm oil plantations.
It’s something of a disappointment to people who imagine Borneo as wild jungles full of fruit and monkeys and not so full of people.
I’d always thought of Durio graveolens and its hybrids varieties — known locally as Suluk — as wild durian species, occurring naturally in the jungle and forested areas or in undeveloped spaces between houses.
But we kept seeing this particular Suluk — with it’s unusual pointy bottom, long curving dark green spikes, and dried flower ring. They looked the same, whether we bought them at the market, a roadside stall, or directly from the farm.
Its flesh is softer and wetter than any other Graveolens or hybrid I’d ever had, stickier than a normal Durio zibethinus but not to the point of peanut-butter glue like a normal Graveolens. It has a delicate milk-coffee flavor akin to a Kun Poh in Penang, and is best eaten super fresh rather than waiting a few days like a Graveolens.
This Suluk was too consistent, from the taste and the appearance, to NOT be a grafted clone, like a Musang King or Monthong or any other durian variety.
It had just never occurred to me before that Borneo would have named, grafted varieties of other durian species. But there it was.
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Getting ready to post my favorite Durians of 2018! The tastiest, the most unusual or exciting (to me 😁) and some of the places I most recommend you put on your durian map this year 🗺📍🚶♀️😋 In the meantime I’m gonna start reposting some clips from my Insta Stories this past year! This is a major time of reflection for me and I’m definitely thinking about all the places I experienced and friends I shared durian with last year. Enjoy this little jaunt into the past📽😊
I did some digging. According to my contacts at the Department of Agriculture, back in the early 90’s they identified and distributed 4 Suluk varieties:
- Suluk Aho
- Suluk Haji Lamat
- Suluk Negit Deli
- Suluk Merah
Years ago, I don’t think I would have known how to find out this information, but now I was able to identify this durian as Suluk Haji Lamat. And apparently Haji Lamat is still alive — meaning I’ll be hunting him (and the three other Suluks) in 2019.
I’m learning faster and faster every year. The answers are coming faster. Am I excited? You have no idea. Let the detective work begin!
The first time I visited Brunei, back in 2012, my contact there promised to take me to the Agricultural Research Station. It was closed that day.
The next year, he was sick and couldn’t take us when we visited.
The next year, he wasn’t in the country.
The next year, I tried emailing the Agricultural Research Station directly. I got no response.
So it went on, until this year, 2018, when I made up my mind that I HAD to learn about Brunei’s Durian. Brunei is in the heart of durian diversity. I knew that if I could just get a hold of Brunei’s durian collections, I would be able to understand what durians were available there.
Several WhatsApp conversations later, and I had an appointment at the Tutong Agricultural Research Station. SCORE!
Of course, it turns out that Brunei keeps its own durian register, and one of the huge, bright yellow Durio graveolens hybrids was both named AND registered — as BD1, or Siunggung.
I now have a new list of Brunei registered durians to track down and photograph. It’s a great excuse to spend more time in this beautiful and basically unchartered jungle country.
So you’ll definitely be seeing more stories from Brunei on the blog this coming year!
In 2018, I started seriously collecting and categorizing Malaysia’s durian varieties. I’d already done most of Penang’s varieties for my book, The Durian Tourist’s Guide to Penang, so I figured — why not the whole country?
Then I took a harder look at the list of official registered varieties with the DOA. The list is huge, but a lot of the durians were missing. I started asking around my network, but farmers kept telling me they’d never heard of such things as D33 Sakai or D176 Kuning (which, by the way, if you ever find them TELL ME)
When I stumbled on D7 at a farm I’d been going to for years, I was surprised and elated.
Eddie’s uncle planted the D7 back in the 1970’s when the DOA was giving away “improved varieties.” It’s an old tree, and the quality of this durian was 👌.
It was delicate and light, with a beautiful strawberry-dipped-in-slightly-burned-liquid-sugar flavor. Maybe I was just really excited, but it was the only durian I wanted to eat that day.
Where: Haw Kee Durian Farm | Pantai Hills Negeri Sembilan
Everyone who loves durian, really loves durian, occasionally stumbles into a situation where the durian is so damn good, each piece a mouth-tingling phenomenon, that you can’t stop. You can’t stop when you’ve had enough, when you’re full, when you’re stomach is about to burst.
Then all you can do is lie down on the bench and wish you could eat more, but you can’t, and you also hope that you stop feeling sick soon.
After 3 months on the durian trail with me, Richard hit that moment at Haw Kee Durian Farm in Negeri Sembilan when he met their Red Rose.
Red Rose is an unusual durian. The flesh is a deep orange color, but it’s named for its deep, rich, mature, earthy flower aroma. There’s too much body to this durian’s scent to call it flowery. It’s somehow syrupy and creamy at the same time, with a heavy liquor tang like Port wine or my brother’s fine whiskey collection.
D24 | Malaysia
Where: The Dusun, Pantai Hills Negeri Sembilan
D24 can catch even me by surprise. Many people think of it as a boring durian, because it’s one of the main commercial varieties, and to be honest it struggles when the weather isn’t perfect.
This year, 2018, D24 loved the weather and I found myself LOVING the D24, especially when we got to the Dusun, an eco-retreat center in the foothills of Negeri Sembilan. This D24 shown above fell at my feet when I was returning from a run.
I swear, the entire thing made my mouth tingle like I’d been swishing peppermint oil. It amazingly dense and fatty, like cookie dough mixed with a lot of dark chocolate, and that tingle — whew! I couldn’t leave this D24 out of my list of the Best Durian of 2018.
Kacang Hijau | Malaysia
Where: Eng Hoe’s Durian Stall in Batu Ferringhi (now closed except by appointment)
In April of this year, just as my book about the best durian farms in Penang was about to go to print, Mr. Liang WhatsApped me to let me know he wasn’t going to be renting the little durian stall and farm just near the Batu Ferringhi Chinese cemetery.
In one fell swoop, I feared one of my favorite durian spots on the island was gone forever. How could I face a summer (or summers) without Kacang Hijau?
Kacang Hijau is my personal Penang favorite. It’s a white-fleshed durian that many people overlook, but it’s got an intense vanilla fattiness and a smoothness just like ice cream. It’s not too sweet, but sooo flavorful.
And then, right before the book was about to launch, I met the owner of the farm by luck and he let me come up to his farm, eat my heart of Kacang Hijau, and even gave me more to feed to my guests at the book launch’s tasting event.
One of my favorite Durian Moments of 2018, and still one of my favorite farms on the island.
Ganyao Wat Sak | Thailand
One of the rules Mr. Chang from Bao Sheng Farm taught me early on was to never eat yourself full of durian, because the very best one will fall last and then what will you do?
Our Thailand Durian Tour group had just smashed about 20 really amazing, tree-fallen durian varieties from Suan Ban Rao, a farm in Rayong with a collection of 111 Thai durian varieties. We were flying high on durian vibes.
The giddy celebration was infectious. Just as we were finished, the owner, Pi John, invited us for a walk in the orchard. It was dangerous. There were tree-fallen durians everywhere, of varieties I’d never tried before.
And then there was this Ganyao Wat Sak sitting innocently on the ground. I don’t normally care much for Ganyao even when tree-fallen, so I sliced it open for the group and was amazed when these deeply yellow-gold, obese, finely wrinkled pods came tumbling out. It was so rich it was like eating maple-sugar whipped cream that was golden and mouth-tingly.
It makes me even more excited to take people to Thailand and show them the really good durians they can find there, if they just know where and what to look for.
Check 2019’s Thailand Durian Tour Information
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Durian Kura Kura | Limbang, Malaysian Borneo
Where: Durian Kura Kura in Limbang
This year, 2018, I really fully realized that the so-called “wild durians” are tied with people. We are their primary seed-distributor. We eat them, we plant them, we nurture them, we take care of them, we select the best of them, we can save them.
I thought there were very, very few Durio testudinarum, known locally as kura-kura, left in Borneo.
Since 2012, I’d only found 2 trees. But in 2018, they started popping out of the forest, and showing up mostly in people’s backyards and behind longhouses. It seemed like suddenly we could find kura-kura everywhere.
Today, January 1 2019, I know the location of 25+ kura kura trees.
I started realizing that, just by sharing our excitement with local people, and also being willing to buy the durians, we were changing the way local people thought about their own fruits.
No longer were these jungle fruits valueless, something to leave rotting on the ground of chop down and sell for timber in a bad time. Now, Durian Kura Kura became something they could sell, and a tree that they should keep.
This journey of realization for me started with an adventure I went on with my friends Simon and Justyna from @fitshortieeats. They made a video about it here that as of writing has over 2.9million views.
I’ve now realized the real value of the Durian Tours — not just help you durian lovers get to the best or most exotic stuff that might be hard to find on your own, but to give an incentive for local people to keep these rare and “wild durians.”
I think of it as an “alternative economy” — a “fruit economy” — and I’m more and more excited every day to see how bringing people together to enjoy amazing quality fruit can change the world. 💕🌎
See you in Durian Land in 2019!