I remembered Pasar Ace, but not with fondness.
When I visited in January 2017, it was dumping rain and the growl of heavy motorbike traffic filled the small damp space, overcrowded with splitting, ugly durians and ladies tugging at my elbows to buy — yes it’s 3x the normal price and splitting at the seams — but it’s sweet, it’s good, buy it, just buy it, buy.
If only then I’d had the good fortune of meeting Mbak Ruly, her husband Zaini and an amazing durian called Durian Lai, I would have had the same glowing fondness for Pasar Ace that I have now.
I can’t wait to back next season.
About Pasar Ace
Pasar Ace is located on an extremely busy road within the borders of Semarang City, in a district called Mijen.
The traffic along this road is wild, even though it passes through relatively small villages (for Java), and is a major durian-growing area.
The market is open from about 7AM in the morning until 6PM at night. If business is slow, like on a Monday, a lot of the ladies go home in the afternoon.
It’s a market dedicated to durian, with just a bit of rambutan, jackfruit and petai hiding in the corners.
The floor space is all dedicated to tidy rows of durian, durian, durian — almost all of it inedible to this durian snob.
I had no idea that one of the most delectable durians I’ve ever tasted could be hiding in these piles of … second class durians.
Choosing Durian at Pasar Ace
We were at the Pasar Ace Mijen Durian Market in the hopes of scoring one last good, nut-buttery, earthy toffee durian for my friend David before he had to fly home to the US.
The probability seemed against us.
The durians were either cut early and unripe, which I could tell from the longer stems with a line where, if ripened naturally, the durian would have broken off the tree and fallen to the ground.
Or the durians were way overripe — yellowing and splitting open, the stems withered, softening phytophtora patches sprouting along the bulging thorns.
It didn’t help with the pickings that the lovely ladies, in typical Javanese-style, were very strongly suggesting which durians we should buy.
We bought one durian, which turned out to be very fleshy and sweet. It was fine. But nothing to remember on a flight home.
Then among one of the piles we found something completely different.
Something I’ve only seen once at the Hortimart Agro Center where I mistakenly identified it as a weird type of Durio kutejensis.
Durio kutejensis in Mijen would have been exciting.
But this was no Durio kutejensis. This was something way different and way more exciting.
Mbak Ruly said it was called Durian Lai, or Durian Oren (orange). He said that morning they’d had 60 fruits, but by the time we were shopping around 3:30PM, most had already been sold.
We were able to score just two fruits of this mysterious durian with the bright bright orange flesh that tasted like whipped cream and nutella.
The flesh was almost like Durio kutejensis, another durian species, but different.
Sure, it was kind of dry, but not at all waxy. The flesh was softer and smoother, stickier and fattier than any Durio kutejensis I’ve had.
Think dehydrated Jiffy peanut butter. Not the crunchy kind.
It also wasn’t at all bubblegum/fruit sweet, instead it had a roundness, a candied earth and a whisky finish.
We were hooked. But what was this thing, and where was it coming from?
Luckily, we had Mbak Ruly to help us answer those questions.
From Pasar Ace Mijen Durian Market to Ngaliyan Village
The next afternoon, Mbak Ruly and hubby Zaini put us in the back of their durian truck and we trundled off together to visit the farmer where the Durian Lai was coming from.
The truck gradually climbed winding roads through corn fields. I hadn’t realized how high into the mountains we’d climbed until we rounded a corner and through the teak trees a bottomless rice-terraced valley plunged.
From Pasar Ace, we drove for over an hour before arriving at Ngaliyan Village and meeting our durian host, Sigit.
About Durian Lai at Ngaliyan Village
About 25 years ago, or maybe a little more, Sigit’s father Tatay Jumadi, bought a grafted seedling at a market. The seller said it came from Kalimantan, the Borneo-side of Indonesia.
Mr. Jumadi planted that single tree without having tasted it. Three years later, when Sigit was 6 or 7 years old, it bore fruit for the first time.
Sigit loved the durian first bite. It was sweet and suited his childish palate. “At that time I didn’t yet like coffee,” he joked to us.
Mr. Jumadi planted more of the mystery Borneo tree, both more grafted trees and also some seedling trees. They spread around the village, until most people had some or a lot of the sweet, orange-fleshed durian with the giant-sized leaves.
Today, Mr. Jumadi is 85 years old and his earliest Lai tree must be approaching 30 years.
But even the day we visited, no one seemed to know what to call it. It didn’t have a name.
“Durian Lai,” Mbak Ruly reminded them.
Harvesting Durian Lai
While we chatted, a climber arrived to show us how they harvest Durian Lai.
The durians do fall on their own, but they split easily so the villagers tie the durians to the trees with plastic twine. When the durian stems naturally break off, the fruits dangle until a climber arrives to free them.
Many of the durians were already splitting when they were lowered onto the forest floor.
We eagerly dug our fingers into the sticky innards bursting through the seams.
So is this Durio Kutejensis?
Durian Lai is one of the local names for Durio kutejensis in many parts of Borneo.
But this Durian Lai is definitely not Durio kutejensis.
This is Durio kutejensis: ↓ ↓ ↓
Durio kutejensis is the name of a species of durian with bright orange, waxy flesh that is low-fat content and extremely sweet. It has a bright, fruity, pineapple-jackfruit aroma and doesn’t really taste like durian.
It can be round or elongated, and sometimes the flesh is a much darker orange, just depending on the variety.
What’s similar about this durian to Durio kutejensis is this:
- The flowers are bright pink
- The leaves are massive
- The flesh is deep orange, dry, and very sweet
- The shell is lightish yellow/brown color
- The 5 lobes are fairly prominent
- The seeds are dark brown
What’s different is this:
- The shape is more elongated and skinny
- The spines are blocky and bigger
- There is no prominent stringy dead flowers bits attached to the stem
- The seeds are too round with a hymen on the long side of the seed. D. kutejensis has particularly long pointy seeds with the hymen on one tip.
- The flesh is softer and smoother, less waxy, and also less sweet.
- Basically more delicious than D. kutejensis, which has never been my favorite durian. But this…I could eat this.
There are two arguing theories about what this strange durian could be.
Theory 1: A hybrid of Durio kutejensis x Durio zibethinus, as put forth in 2015 by Sunaryo et al: Exploration and Identification of Lai Durian, New Highly Economic Potential Cultivars Derived From Natural Crossing Between Durio Zibethinus and Durio Kutejensis in East Kalimantan.
Theory 2: A totally new species called Durio connatus Priyanti, which claims that the shorter flower petals and its tendency to split open on the tree signify a totally different species. Durio connatus (Malvaceae), a new species from Kalimantan, Indonesia
May the discussions rage. It’s a delicious durian with a super long shelf life that people will and should definitely be planting more of in the future.
How to Find Pasar Ace in Mijen
The easiest way to get your hands on some delectable morsels of Durian Lai is to visit Pasar Ace Mijen Durian Market. It’s only 30 minutes from Semarang, and a Grab costs around Rp65,000 to get there.
If you need help booking durian or want to arrange a visit to Pak Sigit’s Durian Village, message me at [email protected]
Use the map below or our Brand New Durian Hunting App to find Pasar Ace Mijen Durian Market.