Richard is doubtful our little car can climb to the top of his property. The road is cemented, but bouncy and steep, and in the rain it gets slippery. We climb into the back of his blue pick-up and he grinds up the hill, the air getting cooler and cooler with each hairpin turn.
It’s a gorgeous ride, higher and higher into the mountains of Balik Pulau, Penang, all the way up to 700 feet elevation (215 meters), one of the highest farms on the island.
It’s no wonder Ah Huat loved living here.
And there, rounding the last curve with a puff of perfumed sea breeze, is a little house under the durian trees.
The History of Soon Huat Durian Farm
Ah Huat himself was waiting for us in the carport with a huge grin. Now 68 years old and in a wheelchair, he lives in an assisted living home in Balik Pulau, down in the hot flat lands.
He says he misses his trees and the cool air, but after an accident with a ladder left him mostly paralyzed, it’s difficult for him to navigate the steep hillsides. He comes up whenever he can to greet visitors and regale them with stories while his daughter, Eunice, and her husband Richard do the chopping and opening.
The farm originally belonged to his father, Chang Fatt Hin, who planted the oldest durian trees on the property in 1970 (49 years ago as of writing).
At that time, Ah Huat lived with his 7 siblings at what is now Bao Sheng Durian Farm.
But the house was getting crowded, so in 1989 Ah Huat moved his young family out and far up the hill to the beautiful view, a fruiting Red Prawn tree and a career that has made him very happy.
He loves durian, and loves choosing them for his customers more.
Durians of Soon Huat Durian Farm
“He says it’s the greatest satisfaction watching your customers enjoying durian,” translated his daughter, Eunice. “He says you would like 700. See, he knows your tastes already.”
When he inherited the farm, there were a lot of old varieties growing there that Ah Huat didn’t like. He chopped down the D15 tree, the Butter (Gu Eu), tree, the Ganja, and the D18.
He replaced them with his favorites — a lot of Hor Lor, a few Kapri, the old Red Prawn trees, a lot of Kun Poh trees, Lipan for its strong aroma, 700, and just two trees of a rare variety called Little Apple (Xiao Pen Guo).
As he told us about Little Apple, he broke out into an adorable version of the 2014 Chinese pop music hit, Little Apple. If you’re super bored, go watch the disjointed music video right now.
As we hiked around the corner to look for the old Red Prawn tree, we heard a soft whump. It was a perfectly ripe, pearly grey fruit bouncing into the net below.
It was meant to be.
The Red Prawn was perfectly fresh, with a texture like whipped cream, a slight red wine flavor, and just the right amount of berry-sugar. I’m not a huge lover of Red Prawn, but I will request one every time I go back to Soon Huat Farm.
Next, we devoured another fragile beauty: the easily ripped, messy, better-cradle-one-hand-with-the-other Kun Poh.
I love a super soft, almost liquid-cream Kun Poh, with it’s earthy, coffee and biscotti base that lingers in your mouth for hours. Normally I keep a Kun Poh until last, to savor that pleasant after shock.
But today we had other durians to try, including one I’m not that familiar with: 700.
When Ah Huat told me I would like 700, he was right.
It’s like a stickier Kun Poh, but harder to find. a D700 is rare to find these days.
It has an even deeper, orangier hue than it’s Grandpa Kun Poh, a texture that’s like nut butter, and a more pungent, richer flavor that its cousin Little Red.
The Hor Lor looked pretty funky, in a tight fat ball instead of the wickedly thornly, elongated fruit I’m used to seeing. I almost didn’t try the Hor Lor, because to be honest — Hor Lor is too sweet for me.
But I looked at that fragile wrinkle pattern along the side, the deep yellow color, and the fatness of that single, obese pod and went for it.
It was the rich, chocolate-undertoned goodness that only an old-tree Hor Lor can be. No regret.
I went back to Soon Huat this year, 2019. To be honest, I was after their 700. But Richard shattered that dream by informing me that 700 wouldn’t be ready till July. Oh well. I’ll be back.
We almost left, durian-less, when a worker appeared on a motorbike with a surprise: 604. And not just any 604, a 604 with that beautiful, pearly-grey sheen of high elevation.
604 is one of the earliest dropping durians, and one of the oldest varieties. It’s sticky-sticky sweet, the kind of durian you have to work to swallow and almost give up on as just sweet, until it kicks you with a surprising burst of exciting numb flavor at the end.
How to get to Soon Huat Durian Farm
There is a paved road all the way up to the farm, if you think your car (and your constitution) can handle it. It’s a steep, narrow road.
You can arrange with Richard for a ride up the hill. From Balik Pulau, drive past the Sacred Heart Catholic Church and park at the bakery on the left hand side of the road.
Richard will pick you up in his little blue truck and take you on a ride of a lifetime, to where high-elevation durian is waiting.
Use this map to navigate around the durian farms of Penang, or find other hotspots around Malaysia.