Tasty flesh despite from discarded seeds

On first tasting it, I thought it like the flesh of some animal in a state of putrefaction.

– Henri Mouhot, French naturalist

It is interesting to compare durian experience in the country, namely in Malaya, Sabah and towns in Sarawak.

This is provided one has travelled throughout the state from Sematan to Limbang and Lawas (by entering through Brunei) in the north.

After staying for four years in Penang with some travelling experience by motorbike to the north up to Kangar and the border with Thailand, I did come across interesting durians (rian in Iban) — trees and roadside sales — along the way. The same goes to my travel back home, especially pertaining to my seven-year stint in Brunei that made it necessary to drive from Kuching to my hometown Saratok and then to Miri up to Bandar Seri Begawan, to Limbang and Lawas.

In our USM Penang campus at Minden Height, there were four or five durian trees that used to bear fruits between 1975 and 1978. This led to the East Malaysian boys to feature prominently with our jungle durian skills. My Sabahan friend and our Elvis Presley Revival Band’s drummer Makibin Bodok (now deceased) played the starring role with his ‘diving’ (as in football) skill — as band lead guitarist cum leader, I always jokingly introduced him as King Bodoh.

Coming for the fun with gloves, he would be waiting for the fruit prior to its drop as he was already down at the correct point when hearing the movement of leaves due to a dropping fruit. So, our friends from Malaya, led by our student council president Francisco de Menezes from Melaka, had no chance at all.

In the end, Francisco befriended me as the leader — Makibin was my junior — and got a fair share. Makibin was named our durian king.

Balik Pulau then was Penang’s durian basket. A few of us went there by motorbike to follow a local whose house had a few trees producing high quality durian — I was reminded of this when enjoying a durian fruit (costing 30 baht, equivalent to RM3) in Bukit Kayu Hitam (Thailand’s town entered from Kedah) in 1990 with Donna Babel who together with me represented Sarawak for the Malaysian Secondary School Principals Conference in Alor Setar. Perhaps both the Thai and Balik Pulau fruits were of the Musang King (MK) species. 

Now, in our beloved state, there are great efforts to plant MK with some orchards already flourishing. Nevertheless, in the hinterland where I grew up, there are various species of the king of fruits.

What might be surprising to urbanites, especially non-Iban, is the fact that most durian trees found in our areas exist in tembawai (long abandoned former sites of longhouses or dwellings of our ancestors.

For example, my family has a few of these tembawai with durian trees still producing fruits. My ancestors’ tembawai sites in Saratok’s Melupa Basin include Bila Dua, Lubuk Ran, Sungai Kedang, Sungai Pauh and Sungai Pentik.

There are also durian trees that have grown in areas owned by the few surrounding longhouses. The biggest one with a few valleys is in Sebirung, formerly reachable three hours on foot through jungle path. Now, the valleys named Rajang, Tinting, Tukak and Lemayung are only a few minutes by motorbike, thanks to feeder lanes by Salcra.

Many are unaware that most of the durian trees were not planted but grew up from discarded seeds, namely those that were discarded or randomly thrown away by residents of longhouses or other dwellings at the areas concerned. Nevertheless, most of Rian Tembawai are fleshy and tasty, and at times incomparable.

Sebirung’s biggest valley is Rajang with at least five trees, the best being named Rian Temaga, with thick yellow bronzy flesh, thereby earning its “temaga” or bronze grade inference.

Rian Lemayung is small and usually has only two compartments inside each fruit with thin but a bit hard flesh with a special taste. Many would joke the flesh would not spoil other items inside a “James Bond” suite case — except for the strong musky smell.

For the Rian Lusing, the name infers a thin flesh with most of the seeds only half-covered with very sweet flesh.

One durian excursion to Saratok’s Bila Dua took place in 1989. Four of us from SMK Julau came in two cars and then started off from our Kedap longhouse on foot for a two-hour journey. We were led by my elder brother Jon plus two cousins, both armed with shotguns.

That evening, we had mousedeer meat for dinner. Jon showed off his immunity to poison by taking durian together with chap langkau liquor. Nothing happened.

We returned full of satisfaction to Julau the next day with both vehicles featuring majestic king of fruits’ smell.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.