Durian Fest & Food Fair in Penang 2012

Announcement to all Durian Fans – The latest Durian Fest in Penang is on again. Details are as in the picture below. Penang durians are great in variety and full in flavor, if you haven’t been to Penang for durians before, I do recommend a trip to try.

(happened across it in this month’s Jetstar magazine – they seem to advertise specifically to Singaporeans to plan their trip there)

Durian Food Fair in Penang

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Durian on Airasia

So I was flying back from BKK to Singapore in the late afternoon on Airasia. The flight was completely full, (which is great for them, bad for us) and I had my usual aisle seat. A big chinese guy (BCG) sat next to me and occupied both the arm rests, leaving me to shrink myself as much as possible so that I wouldn’t be injured by the trollies whizzing by.

Most of the flight was uneventful until it was approaching landing time. As the pilot put on the “fasten seat belt sign” and the plane did big circles in the sky, BCG suddenly whipped out a packet from somewhere (not sure which pocket because he didn’t have a bag) and popped some crisps into his mouth. After a few audible crunches, a waft or durian spread around the plane. I don’t think he had any idea of general decorum or that the durian smell could be offensive to others.

After a few crunches, I tried to get his attention: “excuse me” I said politely, no response. Again, but this time a bit more firmly. This time he stopped crunching and turned to look at me and said “she me”

That’s when I realized he was from mainland China, which explained his behaviour and put everything back in focus for me.

Well then, my next aim was to find out why he was eating the durian and what he thought about it.

He told me he bought it while on vacation in Bangkok, the tour guide brought him and his friends (15 of them at the back of the plane) to a shop selling all sorts of snacks including these durian crisps (dehydrated fruit pieces). He bought 3 big packs, which consisted of 6 little packs inside. Altogther it cost him 1000 Baht, which translates to about RM 5-6 per little packet.

Asked about the flavor, he said it was his first time trying durian and he thought it was delicious. He said that it was clear that people have a love-hate on first taste which would make for stimulating discussion back home in Shanghai.

Yes, Shanghai has durian too (usually Thai export) but its usually frozen and he never felt the urge or had the company to try it. Now he wants to try the fresh one, which I told him would have to wait until June-July to get the good ones.

Finally I asked him if I could take a photo of the packet he had. After he popped the last crisp into his mouth, he handed it to me saying that I could have it “for my research”.

I told him that I had also bought some but not of the same brand and he thought that was hilarious…

As you know, most flights including Airasia prohibit durians, but this is certainly one durian snack that you can enjoy on board.

Durian Extravaganza: Expedition in Penang

Durian Stall in Penang (front view)

If you didn’t know that durians from Penang are famous world-over, you do now.

Balik Pulau in Penang is one of Malaysia’s premium durian cultivation zones, with the creative farm-owners cross breeding the fruit to yield the most luscious flavors, colors, aromas and innovative names.

I was in Penang for work and including the 2 in tow from KL, there were a total of 6 of us. After the work day was done with, we rewarded ourselves with a durian feast which CyL had booked in advance.
“If you don’t book and you don’t arrive early, you won’t get the best” she said knowingly. It sounded almost like a threat that if we didn’t wrap up work in time, someone else might steal our fun.
So punctually at 5.30pm, we concluded business matters and piled into our vehicles. If you have been stuck in Penang’s almost-as-famous traffic jams before, you probably know that the short distance from Pulau Tikus to Jalan Macalister took us 30 minutes. Initially, I thought we were going to the usual Jalan Anson stall (which we had patronized all these years), but MG said that the stall owners were reluctant to acknowledge and exchange substandard quality durians which were charged at premium prices.

So where is the Durian Stall?

It’s right on the corner of Lorong Susu and Jalan Macalister, you can park along Lorong Susu. I’ve labelled both stalls on the map below just in case you are desperate for durian and one stall isn’t open for any reason.

Durian Stall in Penang

And what durian varieties do they have?

Here’s a signboard that will help you with your choice. Not that they have all the types all the time, because it depends on the specific trees and when the fruits fall.

The tools of the trade

Tools of the trade

Ok, now let’s get to the durians. It was almost dinner time so we went crazy and ordered all the best varieties they had.

Green Skin Durian

I think this was the Bamboo

They were all good, very different flavors and textures. Yummy.

The Durian Susu

Durian Fingerprint Texture Test

An unripe durian is very firm and almost dry to touch. The best way to know if the durian is ripe and ready for eating is to press your finger into it and see if it leaves an imprint, indicating its softness and moisture.

(I would not recommending this test on durians displayed in supermarket packages, the supermarkets get very upset when there are lots of fingerprints all over the durian they are trying to sell).

As a substitute for finger-pressing, use your nose. The smell of ripe durians always gives it away and the stronger and more tantalizing the scent. Color is deceptive as some durians are lighter than others, but generally durian flesh does darken in color slightly on ripening.

All the durians on the table – I think each of us must have eaten at least one whole if not two…

Various durians on the table

Of course, there is no way I could return without any durians for SW so we selected several and put them in a box. Green Skin, Butter, Mau Sang Wang were the three top ones, so those got packed into plastic containers and wrapped in cling film.

All these in the box for take-away

Looks quite a lot doesn’t it? But it was wrapped up into only 7 boxes. Interestingly while we were there wrapping these, several tourists from Macau also visited the stall and wanted to bring some back. Unfortunately, their tour guide informed them that Airasia would not accept durians onto their flight and that it was pointless to spend money buying them as they would probably be confiscated.

Hey Airasia, maybe its time to allow people to bring it on as long as its packed and sealed well (they have to use a cling wrap service for the entire bag perhaps) and pay a surcharge for these. After all, what else is there really to buy as a real cultural souvenir in Penang?

Durian menu in Chinese

Some parting shots, the durian names in chinese, for the benefit of our chinese readers, and a shot of all the durian husks in bins waiting for the garbage truck.

Durian Skin Bin

Maybe the durian skins are recycled or made into compost…

This is definitely a stall worth visiting, and if you don’t eat durian (what are you doing reading this site!!) then the stall also has great mangosteens and rambutans, jackfruit and cempadak, so you can gorge on that instead.

Durian Feast in Malaysia 25th July

Dear Blog readers,

If you are in Malaysia, free for the weekend and also craving for durians, you might like to know about this upcoming event. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of madding crowds but if you’re up for an interesting durian consumption scheme, then this might just be the thing for you…

ALL THE DURIAN YOU CAN EAT

If you can’t resist the king of fruit, mark July 25 on your calendar and set your GPS system straight for Bukit Gantang. That’s where PUTRI ZANINA will be again, licking her fingers at the annual Jom Makan Durian Festival

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THE car in front of us makes a sudden swerve to the side of the road and stops. On any other occasion, we would have been angry with such a thoughtless driver but not today.

After all, just moments ago we had done almost the same thing (almost because we did signal before pulling to a halt). So did almost every other driver along that stretch of road. What’s happening?

It’s fruit season… and we’re in durian land! So forgive us for being selfish drivers who can’t help but follow our nose, and our heart, for that luscious, sweet yellow flesh.

The road in Bukit Gantang is flanked by rows of stalls offering not only the “best” durian you can ever find but also rambutan, mangosteen and langsat – all in season now.

Bukit Gantang is, after all, the venue for the annual Jom Makan Durian Festival or the Great Durian Festival that has lured thousands of durian lovers since the event was first held three years ago.

Many find it hard to resist this all-you-can-eat free durian feast though you’d have to jostle with the crowd. But there’s actually more than enough for everyone. Last year, it was reported that 15 lorry-loads of durian or some 16,000 fruit were savoured in just two hours.

This year, the number is expected to be even bigger. So we’d rather be ahead of the crowd.

Good Old Days

As soon as July comes, we make our way to this small town in Perak, just half an hour’s drive from the royal town of Kuala Kangsar. Instead of taking the North-South highway from Ipoh and exiting at Changkat Jering to go to Bukit Gantang, we decide to take the more scenic old inland road from Kuala Kangsar.

This route passes through Padang Rengas (another durian haven) and Bukit Berapit which is about 10 minutes’ drive to Bukit Gantang. For me, it’s a road of nostalgia. When I was small, my parents would take us kids to Bukit Berapit for picnics near the river surrounded by the rolling hills of the Bintang Range.

Now, however, I could hardly see the river. In the old days, as you drove along the road, you would see the clear waters cascading over boulders and forming natural pools for swimming.

Cars, lorries and motorcycles would be parked on the road side where there were many food stalls too. Drivers making the long journey from the north to south or vice-versa (pre-North-South highway) would stop at Bukit Berapit to take a dip in the cold mountain waters or have a refreshing cuppa before continuing their journey.

Sadly, you don’t see such scenes anymore and you have to go further in from the road to have a good view of the river.

There’s a telecom tower marking the spot where you can still see a good stretch of the river. There are signs of logging and parts of the land have been cleared for a double rail track project. But the river water still looks enticing enough to take a dip in and that’s quite comforting.

Traditional Noodles

Near Bukit Gantang, we see a stall “advertising” laksa pulas, so we make a stop. Laksa Buyong, the name of the stall, is apparently famous for laksa pulas (made by using a traditional noodle-making tool that you have to turn). The coarse, pale white noodles are made without preservatives.

Instead of ikan kembong or mackerel as is usually used for Malay-style laksa, flaked sardine is added to the piquant gravy. A bowl of the laksa comes with sliced cili padi and lime. The verdict? Absolutely hot, palate-burning, mouth-watering and tangy.

Much as we enjoy the laksa, our minds are still set on durian.

Roadside Fiesta

Bukit Gantang durian, according to the locals, is one of the best in the country. Roadside stalls offer several varieties, including D24, D99 and MDUR, that are grown in the little hamlets in Bukit Gantang and surrounding areas.

Like in previous years, there’s a glut this year, so you can get durian quite cheaply. A medium-sized fruit is priced at between RM3 and RM4. Small ones sell for as little as RM1 each, so it’s not surprising to see car boots filled to the brim with not just durian but also mangosteen and petai (stinky beans).

Well, the durian stinks too, so imagine the journey home with durian and petai in the boot. What a pong!

For us, the joy of buying durian includes eating it on the spot. The stall keeper happily opens a few and we dig in, enjoying every bit of the sweet, creamy flesh.

At other stalls, most customers are doing the same thing and it looks like one big durian feast all the way. The colours of the different types of fruits – green, red, yellow and more – add to the festive feel.

With the smell of durian drifting in from the car boot and the lingering aroma on our fingers and our breath (arrgh!), we leave in a happy mood.

We see some signboards to Long Jaafar Mausoleum and to an old railway station site but we decide to give these historical places a miss. Somehow, durian and history don’t sound like a good mix.

There’s no mistaking the air of history in Bukit Gantang but we’re too smitten by the king of fruit to think of anything else.

Bits Of History

Larut District’s eminent son, Long Ja’afar, created history when he found tin in the area in 1840. This started the tin boom and, later, wars between two Chinese miner clans, Hai San and Ghee Hin.

Bukit Gantang was Long Ja’afar’s administrative centre. His son, Ngah Ibrahim, took over the business 16 years later and built his residence, fort and store in Matang, known today as Kota Ngah Ibrahim. This fort and Long Ja’afar’s Mausoleum are two of the area’s historical attractions.

But for now, it’s durians we’re after. We are drawn to a signboard directing us to Ladang Bukit Gantang. Perhaps we’ll find a durian orchard there.

Fruit & Flowers Haven

But what we find really bowls us over. Not only do we drive through a durian valley but we also pass other fruit orchards including rambutan, ciku, mangosteen, jackfruit, cempedak, papaya, mangosteen, dragon fruit and mata kucing.

The looming Bintang Range stands guard over this green sanctuary. Cold winds give us a chill as we alight from the car and walk along a garden of blooming hibiscus, cannas and heliconias. The plants “fence” a brick bungalow house fringed with fish ponds.

This is the house of Robitah Zainuddin and her husband Md Tarmizi Md Noor. Robitah is the “celebrated” farmer-cum-entrepreneur who co-ordinates the increasingly popular Bukit Gantang Homestay and the Jom Makan Durian Festival. She won the national-level Successful Farmer Award 2004 while Tarmizi won the Successful Livestock Entrepreneur, Perak 2002.

Within the sprawling fruit farm and flower garden are a chicken farm and a fish farm. Tarmizi rears and sells chicken (some 70,000 birds annually) as well as prized arowana and fish fry for breeding.

Homestay Model

The couple is now reaping the fruits of their labour over the last nine years. Their home in Kampung Lorong Makam Long Jaafar is the reception area for farm visits and showcases facilities available in the 30 other homes that are part of the Bukit Gantang Homestay programme.

The sample homestay room in their bungalow is simply furnished, with wooden furniture and a fan. Outside the house is a clean flush toilet.

The couple would direct visitors to the other homes if they are interested in staying and experiencing life in the kampung. This is one of the ways Robitah gets the villagers involved in the homestay programme.

It’s a full-time undertaking. When we are there, a vanload of tourists from Holland arrives. It’s starting to drizzle but, led by Robitah, the tourists walk in the rain and soak in the cool atmosphere as they pass the pokok pinang walk lined with the tall palm trees and later, the fragrant herb garden. We lose sight of them as they turn towards the foot of the mountain.

After our durian feast, we are hoping to burn off some extra fat. So off we go in the rain, winding our way through rows of ferns and fruiting rambutan trees.

Jom Makan Durian Festival 2009

Mark July 25 in your calendar for this year’s Jom Makan Durian Festival. Invited to grace the event organised by the Perak Tourism Action Council and the Homestay Bukit Gantang Committee are Raja Muda Perak Raja Nazrin Shah and his wife, Raja Puan Besar Perak Tuanku Zara Salim as well as the Perak Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir. For details, call 019-574 0767/05-255 0413.

Homestay Bukit Gantang

The homestay packages include stays in Malay homes, Malay-style food, village tour on bicycle/motorcycle, livestock feeding, rubber tapping, visits to agro-farm and cottage industry (bedak sejuk, kerepek and cookies), natural hotsprings, mountain streams, historical places, traditional games and cultural performances including a mock Malay wedding.

Visits to nearby attractions can be arranged, including Taiping’s heritage buildings, Taiping Night Safari, Matang Mangrove Swamp, Larut Hill and Kuala Gula Bird Sanctuary.

For details, call Robitah at 019-574 0767 or 05-855 49 67 or email bghomestay@gmail.com

Ladang Bukit Gantang

The farm includes a durian valley, garden trails with fragrant garden, herbal garden, heliconia/canna/hibiscus walk, fern walk, pinang walk, water apple canopy and water garden. Activities include farm tours and fruit buffet. For guided tours, call Robitah at the same number above.

How To Get There

Bukit Gantang is about 10 minutes’ drive from Changkat Jering toll exit from the North-South Expressway. It’s about two hours from Kuala Lumpur, one hour from Penang and 45 minutes from Ipoh. You may also take the old road from Kuala Kangsar, a drive that takes about 30 minutes.

• Pictures by ZAABA JOHAR, Muhaizan Yahya and Ikhwan Munir

Durian Tours Make Headlines in Singapore

Imagine my surprise the other day when I opened up the daily newspaper in Singapore and found an article on durians.

Singapore Durian Lovers Head North

Singapore Durian Lovers Head North

Entitled ” Durian Lovers Head North on Day Tours”, heading north from Singapore could only mean trips to Malaysia. “ALL that way for Durian???” ( I hear you ask!) In a way it is quite crazy that people would travel from far and wide just to eat a fruit. But of course all our blog readers already know that durian is certainly not “just” a fruit.

Well, in times of recession, travel agents certainly have to get creative. Instead of tours to Vietnam, Indonesia or further, why not build up a tour package for Singaporean durian lovers to get away from the city, venture out with a loved one and savour an amorous* fruit together?

The upside is that a durian plantation tour is a bit like getting back to nature, walking among fruit trees and eating fruits which are in the vicinity of the tree that bore them. Fresh air, exercise and a delectable experience can be had for less than 60 Singapore dollars according to this article.

The potential downsides seem to be the variability in fruits offered at any one plantation (many stalls source from multiple plantations and hence will have a variety for the purchaser) while the single plantation may not have more than one or two varieties. Further, if a tour group or high-end buyer has been there before you, the high quality durians may have already been consumed or purchased leaving the day-trippers feeling a little duped into eating durians which perhaps aren’t the premium grade.

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Separately, with the durian glut in season some stalls have been offering a “All You Can Eat” durian buffet. I believe in the saying you get what you pay for, this is true usually for service and it is certainly true for durians. There are probably enough aficionados out there who are willing to pay top dollar for good fruit most days of the week, leaving the mediocre or not so good ones for the durian “buffet”. So if you decide to go on one of these trips, make the priority a learning tour about durian orchards and trees and its environment rather than focussing on purely consuming good fruit and I suspect one will be less disappointed with the outcome.

Personally, I would choose quality over quantity, its always much more satisfying to eat one or two good ones of each type than a feast of unripe or bland durians.

Kiss

Kiss

*Why amorous I hear you ask… well if you’ve ever eaten a durian with a partner who does not take a liking to the smell, don’t expect to be getting any kisses, hugs and you risk getting booted out of your room. The contrary also applies, if you share the fruit together, the aromas sort of cancel out and its a great couple appreciation and sharing experience. So before you go, do check if your mate/spouse/lover appreciates durian as much as you do, or it could be a source of tension in the relationship!