FEATURE: Hail, Malaysian durian royalty

BANGI, Malaysia (The Star/ ANN) - The first ever Bangi Golf Resort Durian Festival & Awards 2018 shone a spotlight on the country’s top durian producers. Here are the five best fruits.

For many of the country’s best durian producers, the inaugural Bangi Golf Resort Durian Festival & Awards 2018, held on Aug 4, was a day of reckoning. It was an opportunity to see if toil, hard work and years spent carefully nurturing durian trees would finally bear fruit (pun intended) in the form of national recognition. 
An illustrious list of judges like K F Seetoh, founder of the World Street Food Congress, Lindsay Gasik, author of two durian books and Julie Wong, former senior editor at The Star and Flavours magazine, tried every single durian entered into the competition, judging based on a range of factors like taste, appearance, texture and colour, before making their final decision.
Here are the top winners from each of the five category of the competition:
Category: Musang King & Tekka
Winner: Eric Chan of Dulai Fruits

Dulai Fruits bagged awards in not one, but two categories, nabbing the titles of Musang King and Tekka champion. Musang King (also known as Mao Shan Wang) is one of the most popular (and expensive) durian varietals in Malaysia and originates from Kelantan. The Tekka, meanwhile, is often referred to as the Musang Queen and has a pleasant bitter quality. Dulai Fruit’s Musang King is a decadent, creamy affair so memorable that you’ll be hard-pressed to remember anything but the lingering opulence of the fruit. The Tekka, meanwhile, boasts velvety durian flesh that is lightly bittersweet and incredibly sumptuous.
According to Eric Chan, one of the partners in the company, what makes their durians so distinctive is the temperature and terrain in Kampung Tras, Pahang where their durian orchard is.
“Kampung Tras is a very special place in Malaysia for durian. I don’t claim it myself, it’s from other people who say that Kampung Tras has the best Musang King. When it’s dark, the temperature is around 20°C but at 10am, it will start to warm up and it’s back to 36°C, so there’s a temperature gap that makes our fruits special.
“But that’s only one part of it, the other part is the terrain. A lot of the durians are on the hilly side of Kampung Tras, and it is at the back of a mountain range, so the water distribution is very good and the soil is very, very fertile,” he says.
Chan’s orchard has over 3,000 durian trees, out of which 70% are the Musang King varietal and 10% are Tekka. His other partners have been in plantation their whole lives and have over 40 years of experience, so their planting and growing techniques have been honed to perfection.
“What we can say is our durians have a more consistent taste – even if the season is not good, our quality will be stable,” says Chan.
Chan and his partners export their fruit to China, the US and Australia and have received excellent response from buyers and others in the market. They decided to enter the competition in part to see if they matched up with other producers. 
“We’ve never had this sort of exposure before. We thought we should give it a try and see how our durians compare to others. Before that, we already had good response from our buyers, but that’s not really a professional kind of response – it’s just that people know that our fruits are better,” says Chan.

Dulai Fruits
Kampung Tras
Tel: 03-6276 8036
Durian from the farm is also available at: 
Durian Hill SS2

To visit the farm, advance appointment is essential.
Category: Black Thorn
Winner: Heng Mee Oo of Serene Orchard Sdn Bhd

The story of Serene Orchard’s rise to become Malaysia’s top producer of the Black Thorn varietal of durian began with 15 years of failure. 
“Initially when we started 30 years ago, we planted a lot of clones like Hor Lor, D24 and Tekka. In our first 10 to 15 years, the quality of our produce was not up to standard and we failed quite badly. Nobody wanted to buy our fruits even at very low prices. So at that time, we were very miserable,” says Heng Mee Oo, the owner of the orchard.
Coincidentally, Heng’s hometown of Sungai Bakap in Penang was where the original Black Thorn mother tree came from. The fruit from that tree was so popular that the waiting list was years long. Heng got his first taste of the fruit after two long years of waiting and says he just knew it was the one for him.
“I tried all sorts of durian but once I ate the Black Thorn, I fell in love. I told myself ‘This is the durian I want!’ So I decided to slowly plant it in stages, a few thousand trees a year. A few years back, I transformed my farm from a multi-clone to a single clone. So the whole farm is now Black Thorn,” he says.
Black Thorn was a secret for many years as the original tree in Sungai Bakap was planted based on a seed that originated from Thailand and little was known about it outside the community. Since being commercially grown, it has surged in popularity over the years and is being lauded as a rival to Musang King. And Heng’s Black Thorn is certainly magnificent – each fruit is plump and voluptuous with a bright burnished, slightly reddish hue. Tastewise, it packs a phenomenal punch – creamy, thick flesh with an underlying richness, sweetness and a slight alcoholic aftertaste that proves instantly seductive.
These days, Heng’s 30-year-old 100-acre (40.5ha) farm is filled with over 6,000 Black Thorn trees, with about 90% of his produce exported (through other parties) to countries like Australia, New Zealand, China and Hong Kong. Although Heng has already achieved considerable success, he continues working to make his farm better, including plans to turn it into a fully organic farm, as he now already uses 75% organic fertiliser.
“Actually a lot of people don’t know that chemical fertiliser is not suitable for durian as the trees are very sensitive and fragile. If you put too much, the soil conditions will be damaged,” he says.
Heng says he has no secret formula to his success, as he learnt everything he knows about durians in The School of Hard Knocks. “We get feedback that our durian is very special and no other farm can copy us. And I think that’s because of 30 years of failure and experience,” he says.

Serene Orchard
Lot 2571
Mukim Bagan Samak
34950 Bandar Baharu
Tel: 011-5108 1295 (WhatsApp only)
Black Thorn from the farm is also available at: Durian King TTDI

To visit the farm, advance appointment is essential.
Category: D24
Winner: Sime Darby Planters’ Haven West
In 1997, Sime Darby Property started selling one-acre (0.4ha) plots of land – part of a sprawling 264 acres (107ha) of pristine green called Planters’ Haven in Nilai – to interested members of the public. On most of these plots, D24 durian trees were planted. Fast forward over 20 years later and the 1,000 durian trees have matured.
“For the last season, we had about 6,000 fruits from the farms. But we don’t sell the fruits commercially, we give them to customers who come to our farm to enjoy, because we are selling the land, not the fruits,” says Mohamad Jalani, head of business unit 3 at Sime Darby Property.
D24 is widely available in Malaysia and is prized for its creamy flesh. The fruit is often incorporated into local desserts – McDonald’s Malaysia even introduced a D24 McFlurry!
The farm’s D24 is divine – one of those heavenly plump durian fruits with a rich aroma and flesh that is hedonistically creamy and sweet without being cloying. 
Jalani and his team were propelled to enter the competition because they wanted to encourage more people to visit their farm. “Malaysians only eat durians; they don’t know anything about the trees. That’s why we joined this competition to promote our farm, as it’s not that far from KL,” he says.
As the trees have now reached their second decade, Jalani says the fruits are simply going to get better. 
“The taste is getting better and better every year because the trees have matured. Every time we bring people to our farm, they say this is the best durian they’ve tasted,” he says.

Nilai Impian Gallery (transportation will be provided from here to the farm)
No 1, Persiaran Nilai Impian 3
71800 Nilai Impian
Negri Sembilan 
Tel: 06-794 8383

To visit the farm, advance appointment is essential.
Category: open
Winner: Mohd Zarir Khalil of Dusun Damai for D13 durian

The soft-spoken Mohd Zarir Khalil is a keen farm owner who comes from a family invested in agriculture – his father is also a farmer. His little five-acre (2ha) orchard in Johor is over 25 years old and has 86 durian trees, as well as rambutan, pulasan and dokong. He grows durian varietals like 101, D13, udang merah and also kampung durians.
Unlike many of his competitors, Zarir is literally a one-man show. “I only have two workers helping me – I think I couldn’t handle the work if I had a big farm,” he says.
The D13 originates from Johor and has a less intense taste than some of its heavyweight counterparts. Zarir’s award-winning D13 is a delight – it is much lighter in texture and flavour than many of the other winners, which means you can easily polish off more fruits in one go.
Recently, Zarir decided to take on a much bigger challenge: investing in a six-acre plot that was previously an oil palm plantation, which he is slowly converting into a Musang King farm. “I wanted to try planting from saplings until they bear fruit, because I love to see the process,” he says.
Zarir intends to continue to keep a low profile despite having one of the best durians in the country, as he says he entered the competition simply to see where his durians stood. 
“I just wanted to know the level of my fruit, if it is so-so or good,” he says humbly.

Dusun Damai
PRA 13 Parit Raja Ahmad
Parit Sulong
Batu Pahat 
Tel: 012-317 7411

To visit the farm, two-day advance appointment is essential.