There came a point July, 2019, when I swore I needed a day off of durian. It had been durian every day for months, with the whole range of flowery sweet, nutty, chocolatey, egg-cream, and deep alcoholic whiskey. I thought we’d run the whole gamut of durian flavor.
And then we tried Tupai King, and my brain exploded a little.
About Cap Tupai Durian Stall
I was young in durian the first time I encountered Tupai King Durian at the Cap Tupai Durian Stall in Relau. It was 2014, and I had just begun working on The Durian Tourist’s Guide to Penang.
We were on our way to Cap Kaki, another unrelated stall further up the mountain road leading from Relau to Balik Pulau, but noticed a small, raggedy stall just at the start of the hill.
It was a setting worth zero Michelin stars. The simple slanting stall sat meters off a busy road, motorbikes whizzing past loud enough to discourage conversation, the tables and chairs darkened with years of traffic dust.
We scanned the durians hanging from green twine at the front of the shop. There were the usual suspects – Red Prawn, Jackie Chan’s Wife, Hor Lor, Green Skin, etc. – but they suggested that on that day, Tupai King was their best option.
I didn’t trust them. It wasn’t their fault.
As a young tourist enthused but inexperienced with durian, I’d had down luck at durian stalls in Penang. The price for Tupai King was Rm40 per kilo, and in my mind I thought Nah, it’s another scam.
The word Tupai literally means squirrel, and I’d already had “Tupai Kings” that were just the seller’s up-sale of a durian with a hole bit out of it. Many sellers claim that squirrels have better noses than humans and pick the most delicious fruits.
In my own personal experience, the presence of squirrel-holes is not a reliable sign of good durian.
So in 2014 I decided to save my money.
Later, when I bought what was obviously a D24 served under the name Tupai King, I felt validated that Tupai King was BS.
But I think I missed a perspective-shifting opportunity. Because Tupai King tastes like no other durian I’ve ever had.
Tasting Tupai King: From Disappointment to Delight
It took me until 2019 to go back to Cap Tupai with the intention of buying Tupai King, and it was only because we had a special request from Durian Tour guests to try it.
Unbeknownst to me, Tupai King had slowly gained a cult following in the years that had passed. Price inflation for Tupai King had risen to Rm70 per kilo ($16 USD/kg), placing it about on par with the more revered Black Thorn.
I was still skeptical, but I called ahead and managed to book a single Tupai King during the first week the trees were dropping in the 2019 season.
The Durian Tour Guests photographed and circled the fruit with excitement before attacking. In seconds it was gone.
I could tell from the way they got suddenly quiet that it didn’t live up to the hype. The husk was so thick there was barely any flesh at all (not enough for me to get a taste!) and the meat was pale. I didn’t feel like I had missed anything.
And I might not have gone back, except by then I had heard rumors about Tupai King from other durian obsessed friends. And so I allowed myself to be convinced to go back one more time.
Peak Season Tupai King
Several weeks later, I got a message that Tupai King was in the peak season, and it was time to try it.
By this time it was July, and I honestly didn’t want to eat more durian. I had just one day off between Durian Tours, and was planning to stay home and eat spinach. Really. I’m serious.
But as Durian Seng always said, “Durian does not wait for you.”
So we headed to the grungy little stall with a durian worth 5 Michelin stars.
This time I could smell the Tupai King from halfway across the stall. “It’s good today,” Vincent Chew, the Boss’s son, assured us.
He cracked it open and revealed the a gorgeous, dark yellow durian with an intriguing blue-grey striping almost like a tiger.
We dug our fingers into its soft, thick flesh. I could smell the gaseous numb, combined with a deep fruitiness that was almost like cough-syrup. I took a bite and and my eyes flew wide.
It was straight up Manischewitz. The durian was boozy. The heat rushed into my cheeks, the thick syrupy-sweet fruity fattiness filling my mouth with a durian flavor I had never experienced before.
There was not one ounce of bitter in this durian, but that almost cough-syrup, grapey, alcoholic rush intense. We bought another right away.
“It’s like cordial,” Richard said. There was not one ounce of bitter in this durian, but the alcoholic rush made it a sensory experience that was bubbly, zingy, cold and hot, all at the same time.
Move over Musang King. Another Penang Star is growing, almost ready to be released into the Durian World.
Identifying Tupai King
As I’ve already experienced, there are many fake Tupai Kings. So it’s good to know how to recognize a real one.
Look for a greenish durian with close-set thick thorns and a wide brown bald spot on it’s bottom. The brown seams are really visible, giving it a bit of the classic star.
It has an extremely thick shell, so keep that in mind when buying – half the price is throw-away – and at Rm70 or even more per kilo, that’s expensive compost!
The Discovery of Tupai King Durian
Tupai King was discovered 16 years ago by Chew Chee Wan, the patriarch of Cap Tupai Durian Stall.
Mr. Chew managed various durian properties in the hills around Sungai Ara and sold the durians at his small stall.
Around 2003, he rented a property with a really, really, really old tree that made these magical fruits. He knew he had struck gold.
So he collected budwood from the tree and grafted them onto 35 of his own trees.
Video: The Story of Tupai King
How to Get to Cap Tupai Durian Stall
Cap Tupai Durian Stall is located on Jalan Paya Terubong in Relau, across the street from the Relau Agricultural Station and the Man Man Organic Market.
You can place orders for Tupai King or other durians by contacting them directly:
- Cap Tupai Facebook