The durian is a popular tree in Pasir Panjang , Central Kalimantan (Central Indonesian Borneo). The local people all seem to love its fruit. Throughout the durian fruiting season, the owner of a durian tree will sit and wait, all day and night, for his/her ripe fruits to drop. If the tree is not guarded, the coveted fruits might be cheekily taken by who knows whom! In the Dayak community of Pasir Panjang, trees are assets, inherited from family members who first planted the seeds. Even if people sell their land, the tree remains their property. Only if the tree is specifically sold, will the land buyer obtain the tree.
Waiting for durian fruits to fall is an exciting social occasion, bringing friends and family together under the durian tree. I grow curious and decide to join my friend Mr Iim and his father who own a durian tree about five minutes away from their house. We join friends of Mr Iim’s father who have made a makeshift tent and are cooking noodles and brewing coffee throughout the evening. Yet we have little luck and nothing falls, so we decide to sleep on bamboo mats near the tree. In the middle of the night, at about 2 am, we are suddenly woken by loud crashing sounds as a durian fruit tumbles through the branches to the ground. Everyone leaps from their mats, with flashlights ablaze and races to the base of the tree to look for the fallen fruit. Eventually, Mr Iim’s father lifts up the large prize, and tired, we all slip back to bed. The whole experience is exciting. Something as simple as waiting for a fruit to drop is made into a fun camping experience to share with friends, listen to stories, and drink hot coffee under a canopy of stars.
Waiting under the durian tree with a hammock and a flask of coffee.
A mammoth durian tree. Two girls are holding a fallen durian fruit as they wait for more to drop.
People wait for durian fruits to fall when the fruit is at its optimal ripeness. Other types of fruits can be collected from the branches of the tree. Mr Henson, who works at the OFI Care Center in Pasir Panjang, offers to show me the grove of cempedak trees, bearing heavy fruit, in his garden. To collect these green giants, Mr Henson climbs the tree and uses a long bamboo stick to hit the fruits, loosening them. Eventually, loud cracking sounds are heard as a fruit falls through branches and makes its way to the ground with a thud. After hunting for the fruit, I try a piece of the creamy, yellow flesh inside the green shell. The flavor is strange and unlike any fruit I’ve ever tasted before. The texture is gooey, and the odor of the fruit seems to stick to the roof of my mouth, long after I eat it.
One of Mr Henson’s cempedak trees, heavy with fruit.
Mr Henson opens the cempedak fruit.
Back at the OFI Care Center I grow curious. How do the local Dayak people eat their fruit? Are there any interesting recipes that I could try? Soon everyone is sharing their stories about what they cook and insist that I must try durian fruit in coffee, a traditional Dayak drink. I’ve heard many stories about the stench of the durian fruit and am apprehensive as it is cut open. Some describe it as smelling like rotten eggs, or vomit, whilst others claim it’s yummy and makes me want to eat it. The smell is overwhelming, but everyone seems to love it and quickly pours themselves a coffee. I’m given a glass; big pieces of yellow fruit swirl inside. It seems difficult to drink, so I try eating the larger pieces with a spoon, whilst the stringier pieces seem to sink nicely with the coffee. I’m not hooked, but the taste is certainly unique. I can see why it is considered such a specialty. One common Dayak story is that durian can make your internal organs very hot. Therefore it is thought unwise to eat durian if you’re pregnant, since the baby might overheat. It is known that tigers on the Indonesian island of Sumatra love to eat wild durian, and locals will often avoid durian trees during the fruiting season for this very reason.
Dayaks believe that mangosteen fruit should never be eaten with sugar. In fact on one occasion, Judith, the previous enrichment intern, offered the cook, Ibu Mila, some mangosteen, which she almost ate, before remembering that a few minutes earlier she had drunk a cup of coffee sweetened with sugar. She then explained that one villager had died after eating mangosteen with sugar. A quick Google search of “mangosteen” and “sugar” revealed that other countries have reported similar tales, yet scientifically, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence for such stories.
The Dayak kitchen is certainly an interesting place to sit and listen to stories and hear the local people share their knowledge about local fruit. It is also an exciting culinary experience, as pineapples can be eaten with soy sauce or hot sambal (a traditional chili-based sauce), and durian fruit with porridge. Finding out more about fruit, in Pasir Pasjang, has definitely been an interesting adventure.
Local children of Pasir Panjang enjoying mangosteen fruits.
The open mangosteen fruit, showing the white flesh