With the weather always hot, the rain unpredictable, and the sun setting every night at the same time, who would ever believe that Penang has two seasons?
On the other side of the island in Balik Pulau, we walk with my aunts down a steep road to Bao Sheng Durian Farm, overlooking the green valley below. 15 meters above our heads, hundreds of bowling ball sized objects covered in dinosaur spikes hang precariously off tree branches.
"What if one of those things falls on my head?" Mark asks. He scans the area searching for a helmet or at least a thick umbrella.
Mr. Chang aka Durian Seng, the owner of the farm, greets us without a helmet on. "Don't worry, durians have eyes. They fall down at night when no one is around."
Mark looks as skeptical as he did when I told him that the vipers don't bite at the Snake Temple.
We follow Durian Seng to his outdoor cafe, where fresh durians line the table. I pick one up, but the spikes are so sharp, I need to hold it by the stem. When Durian Seng grabs one by the spikes, I am reminded of my mom when she carries bowls of boiling soup in her hands without flinching.
Durian Seng slams the fruit to the concrete floor to loosen the armored shell before he slices it open with a knife along the seam. The notorious durian "smell" releases, but it is aromatic in its freshness. He says, "There are many types of durian: Hor Lor, Red Prawn, Kun Poh Ang Bak, Green Skin Ang Bak, Lipan, D-11, Little Red. This one is D-604 from a 40-year old tree, so you get this rich, creamy pulp and smaller seeds. The older the durian tree, the better the fruit. And look at the wrinkled skin of the pulp. That tells you it is fresh and creamy."
We savour the exquisite fruit as Mr. Chang continues his passionate talk about durians. "This morning, we had a durian eating contest and Gordon Ramsay (of the TV show Hell's Kitchen) was the judge. The guy who won ate 15 pulp pieces in 5 minutes."
One of my aunts laughs. She whispers, "Only 15?"
"We offer durian buffets here where the spread is as diverse as any buffet you have tried before. We offer many different types of durians and for each type, you can choose the tree age from young, middle-aged, or centenarian."
Mark turns to me with his sticky durian fingers. "Where can I wash my hands?"
Durian Seng cuts in, "Did you know that if you wash your hands with the pulp seed of the durian, it will actually take all of the smell away?"
Mark looks back at me with another expression of disbelief that is beginning to stick on his face more than the durian pulp.
We take his word for it and wash our hands with the seed. We all smell our fingers and stare at each other as if we each are holding a magical seed. The smell is completely gone! Durian truly earns the name, "King of the Fruits".
As we pack up our take-away durians, and hike up the driveway, I think about the quote I read online the day before, from British naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace. He said it best when he described the fruit in 1856, “...the more you eat of it the less you feel inclined to stop. In fact, to eat Durians is a new sensation worth a voyage to the East to experience. ... as producing a food of the most exquisite flavour it is unsurpassed.”
As its nickname suggests, the "King of Fruits" requires royal treatment. If it is not handled with care, which includes transport in air conditioning, the fruit will quickly lose its aroma and unique flavor. (Posing with Mr. Chang aka Durian Seng and his durians)
If you would like to visit Penang, remember there are two seasons: "Durian Season" and "Waiting for Durian Season". Durian Season runs from around May 15 - July 15.
To pay your homage to the King of Fruits, please visit Mr. Chang at Bao Sheng Durian Farm:
150 Mk.2, Sungai Pinang,
11010 Balik Pulau, Penang, Malaysia.
Labels: Eating in Penang