Balik Pulau Durian Feast 2012

Our recent trip to Penang was to feast on durians, this being the season for it, and to spring clean my apartment. I had engaged two cleaners to mop and help me clear some of the unwanted items. The last time the apartment was cleaned was two years ago. The floor was thick with dust, as was everything else. The five hours of cleaning resulted in ten garbage bagful of things that I no longer have any use for. The next trip will be for packing the remaining items in boxes.

A pile Balik Pulau durians on the floor before sorting
Freshly picked Balik Pulau durians.

The day after the spring cleaning, we headed to Balik Pulau. I had pre-ordered three durians for Wuan and myself from Ah Wong of Stall 808 which is across the road from the Balik Pulau bus terminal and market. Ah Wong is my cousin Peter’s cousin. He is a durian wholesaler that we have been patronising for many years. His wife also makes the delicious lempuk durian which is a paste of durian and sugar stirred in a kuali over a slow fire for at least four hours until it thickens and turns a dark shade of brown.

Balik Pulau
Balik Pulau durian – hor lor (bottle gourd).

When we arrived at Ah Wong’s house which also doubles up as his durian stall, we had to wait for him for almost half an hour. He was at the plantation collecting durians to transport them back to the stall. The first durian we had came fresh from the plantation. It is called “hor lor” in Hokkien which means bottle gourd because of the shape of its pulp. Its flesh is firm and pleasantly sweet with a subtle hint of bitterness.

Balik Pulau
Balik Pulau durian – ang chui mua (red sarung).

The second fruit we had was called “ang chui mua” or red sarung. I have no idea why it is named as such. Perhaps the original tree was used to hang red sarungs to dry. Wuan and I have never eaten this fruit before. The flesh is a bright orange and slightly soft. Some of the seeds are stunted and small (chew hoot). It is sweet with a strong taste of bitterness. The core of the fruit is enlarged (tua sim) which made it difficult to open.

Balik Pulau
Balik Pulau durian – hor too (porcupine).

While we were enjoying the two durians, Ah Wong went off to collect more durians from the plantation. When we were done, and waiting for him, Wuan went over to the pile of durians to pick one of the smaller fruits to practice shaking the durian. The sound and sensation of the pulp moving inside while it is being shaken indicates that its flesh is firm. If there is no sound when shaken, the flesh could be mushed. Firm flesh is preferred over mushed ones.

When Ah Wong came back, he asked what kind of durian we wanted to eat next. Wuan wanted something creamy and bitter. Incidentally, the durian that she used to practice shaking with had bitter and creamy flesh. The durian was called “hor too” or porcupine. Again, I have no idea why it is named after a porcupine. Perhaps its shape has a likeness to a porcupine or the animal was spotted frequently near the tree before it was given a name.

Its flesh was pale, not an attractive feature in durians. The preferred colours are bright yellow, orange and pinkish. However, to our surprise, it was creamy and very sticky. It was moderately sweet but had a very bitter taste with a strong aftertaste of licorice. That was also the first time we had “hor too” and we liked it very much, irrespective of the colour of its flesh. Its unique licorice aftertaste was very unusual. That was one durian we would not mind having more of.

Balik Pulau
Balik Pulau durian – cheh puay (green skin).

With some room in our tummies still, we got Ah Wong to open another durian for us. He recommended “cheh puay” or green skin. This is one fruit we have been eating here for the past few years. Its flesh was a shade of bright yellow, very creamy, sweet, rich and sticky. I had to wash it down with some water after my second mouthful because of its stickiness. Needless to say, this is one of our favourites too.

The durian harvest for this year is rather small. The continuous rain during the blooming phase had caused many of the buds to fall off. In a week or two, the durian season in Balik Pulau will end. The quality of the durians at the tailend is usually lower. It was fortunate that we were in Penang at the peak of the season. We had a pick of some of the better durians. Finally, our craving for durians for this year was totally satiated.

Mini Balik Pulau Durians Feast

The durian season in Balik Pulau is in full swing. Wuan scheduled her leave especially to coincide with this event. We had for company during the four-day sojourn in Penang our best friends William and Cynthia and their lovely kids Emily and Henry. We drove up from Kuala Lumpur on Thursday and enjoyed the best of Balik Pulau durians, Penang hawker food, crazy traffic jams and mad drivers.

Balik Pulau durian - Ah Wong of Stall 808
Balik Pulau durian – Ah Wong of Stall 808.
Photo by Wuan.

Three days prior to the trip, I had booked four durians from Ah Wong who runs the 808 stall opposite the Balik Pulau bus terminal. While durians are aplenty, the “ho bak” (good quality) durians are usually snapped up as they come in from the plantation. Wuan and I have been patronising Ah Wong for many years as we are related in some ways and are sure to get the best he has. Ah Wong is very deft in opening durians with just a pen knife. A few cuts to the bottom of the thorny fruit and the glory of the yellow flesh is quickly revealed.

Balik Pulau durian - Lin Feng Jiao
Balik Pulau durian – Lin Feng Jiao.

The first durian that Ah Wong opened for us was Lin Feng Jiao, named after the famous Taiwanese actress of the 1970s. Why it was named so, I did not ask. Perhaps, the actress was the first thing that came to mind when this durian was being savoured. I certainly did not have that impression. It was a rather large fruit with firm and sticky flesh, so sticky that one cannot eat too many seeds without having to drink some water in between.

Balik Pulau durian - Cheh Puay
Balik Pulau durian – Cheh Puay.

Cheh Puay (green skin) is one of my favourites. Its flesh is what durian connoisuers call “koh liam” or bitter yet sweet. I never really found out why I always sneezed when I ate “koh liam” durians. Just like eating durians is an acquired taste, eating “koh liam” durians is also an acquired taste. Not everyone who likes durians likes the bitter ones.

Balik Pulau durian - Tiam Teng
Balik Pulau durian – Tiam Teng.

I have forgotten why I was not too fond of Tiam Teng which meant “lighting the lamp”. Wuan liked it very much though. She says the slight bitterness and creaminess was nice. The fruit is roundish. It is difficult to open with bare hands as it has a thick core that the locals call “tua sim”. I have seen people attempting to open such durians with parangs with little success even after mutilating the bottom of the fruit.

As for its name, I can only guess that it was named so because the planters had to wait for it to drop in the thick of the night with an oil lamp to make sure that the fruits do not get stolen. “Ho bak” durians sometimes get stolen as soon as they drop but woe betide the thief who gets caught as the punishment would be ugly and nasty.

Likewise, tourists should not pluck durians from the trees or pick up durians on the roadside along Teluk Bahang, Sungai Pinang and balik Pulau. Plucking the fruit would spoil the tree as it was believed that the fruits would no longer fall even after they are ripe. Picking durians resting on the roaside is considered stealing. Such durians would surely have dropped from someone’s tree waiting to be picked up.

Balik Pulau durian - Ang Heh
Balik Pulau durian – Ang Heh.

Ang Heh is Hokkien for “red prawn.” It has a mild pleasant aroma, not overly sweet and has a smooth texture. Its flesh has hints of pink and resembles a big prawn, hence its name. I am adding this to my list of favourite durians. If there is a durian that I would recommend to the uninitiated, this would be the one. We wished we could savour a few more durians but we were totally stuffed. Some of my other favourites that I have had there previous times were Ganja (cannabis/marijuana), Susu (milk) and Hor Lor (gourd).