KUALA LUMPUR: Love it or hate it, with its green thorny spikes and pungent yellow-custardy flesh, the Durian fruit is a national treasure in Malaysia.
Most Malaysians have a deep affinity for the durian, partly because it reminds them of their childhood eating the fruit.
With growing local and international interest in fresh durians and durian products, many enthusiasts and traders are holding festivals to celebrate the fruit throughout the country.
One was the recent Durian Festival and Awards at the Bangi Golf Resort, about one-hour from the city center. The peak months for durians are between June and September.
“Durian is our culture, most older people would remember growing durian trees in their village,” said the organizer of the festival, Tan Ban Keat, fondly known as the “Durian Guy.”
“It reminds them of their childhood, eating durians with their family and friends. It is a very social activity when eating durians,” Tan said.
It is a uniquely Malaysian event. Many Malaysians enjoy durians during the season — eating them at the open-air market or paying a visit to the durian farm during the weekends or purchasing durian-based products.
The is the second year of the durian festival hosted by the Bangi Golf Resort, which has embraced a durian-focused ecosystem to attract tourists and locals. Tan has a long-term vision to grow and expand the durian market locally and globally.
This year’s festival theme centered on “everything durian” — it had a huge array of activities and events. These included a “world durian championship,” a “durian fun run” at the golf course, an open-air bazaar-style market and a trade fair for durian enthusiasts and farmers.
The event was packed with families bringing their young children. Many were intrigued by the taste and smell of durians at the market, while others enjoyed the relaxing open-air atmosphere.
Thean Lim, 68, came to the durian festival with his partner because of his love of the fruit. “Durian is quite expensive now as it is still the beginning of the season, but I enjoyed coming here because I can get good durians at a cheaper price than in the city center.”
Tan, the “Durian Guy,” was most proud of the durian championship and durian fun run as he said it brought out the Malaysian love of the fruit. Farmers from all over Malaysia brought their best and freshest produce to be judged by a panel of judges, which even included a few durian enthusiasts from China.
After the durians were judged and the winner was announced, the durians were given to people to taste. “It was such an amazing sight with hundreds of Malaysians looking at people mesmerised by and eating durians for four hours,” Tan said.
For the durian fun run, participants were given one durian each and had to run a distance of 4.5 kilometers. “There are no fixed rules, you can wrap the thorny durian with newspaper or put it in a supermarket cart — the goal is to just finish the run,” Tan said.
He told Arab News that the reward for the ones who finished the run was to eat the durian they were holding. “This is the first durian run in a golf course! We hope to continue next year because everyone loves it.”
Eric Chan, 34, managing director of Dulai Fruits, was the winner of the durian championship. He told Arab News that the win was unexpected as he took up the durian business only a decade ago.
“I did not expect to win the best durian award because this year many farmers came from all over Malaysia to display their durians, even one Musang King durian from Thailand!”
“We are the first batch of durian traders to export frozen durian to China,” he said. “To be honest I did not know how to do business, but along the way we learnt how to get things done.” He added that he had to learn to speak Mandarin from scratch to be able to trade durians in China.
He told Arab News that he had a bumpy start to his business as many people from China did not know about durian from Malaysia. “Many from China thought that durians are from Singapore instead of Malaysia; also most of the imports were from Thailand.”
However, he said the global interest in durians really took off in 2013, and his business started to expand rapidly. “The Musang King durians were all over the news in China at that time,” Chan said. He is currently exporting durians to China, Australia, Europe and other countries.
“Malaysian durians are of premium quality. I am glad that nowadays Malaysian durians are gaining popularity worldwide,” he said.