As a country known for lots of rain and sunshine, Malaysia is no doubt a haven for fruit lovers. Many of the fruits grown here are seasonal, and whenever they are in season, it’s common to see fruit sellers line up by the roadside, selling their harvest from parked vans and trucks. Most local fruits are also widely available at wet markets, supermarkets and hypermarkets.
Of all local fruits, the durian is the most loved and in some cases, most loathed. Dubbed the King of Fruits in Southeast Asia, it is known for its distinct flavour, strong aroma and thorny husk. Some have described the taste of durian as rich and custard-like, while others have likened it to rotten onions and turpentine. Due to its pungent smell, the durian is banned from hotel rooms and on public transport. Still, little comes between durians and durian lovers, who are willing to pull up alongside a durian truck, perch themselves on a stool and enjoy their favourite fruit al fresco.
While the durian is king, the manggis (mangosteen) reigns as the Queen of Fruits. Beneath its dark purple rind, is a cluster of white, soft and mildly fibrous segments, which are juicy, with a sweet and sour taste. Also known for its tangy sweetness, is the rambutan, which is easily recognisable as it’s covered with hairy spines. Its cousin, the pulasan, has a similar appearance, though not as hairy, and has a sweeter flavour.
Throughout the country, popular local fruits like nenas (pineapple), mangga (mango), papaya, tembikai (watermelon) and belimbing (starfruit) are often served at the end of a meal as a dessert. Alongside jambu batu (guava) and jambu air (water apple) they are also frequently sold readily cut at stalls selling fresh fruit. If in season, ciku (sapodilla) will also be out on sale. Resembling a kiwi in appearance, it is brown both on the outside and inside. Its flesh, which is firm and has a grainy texture, is very sweet to the taste when ripe.
The duo known as duku and langsat, a.k.a. lanzones, are not sold as prepared fruit, but they are no less sought after. They come in clusters of small round or oval fruits, with rubbery rinds. Their flesh is translucent, juicy and firm, with a sharp tanginess that ends on a sweet note. Two hybrids of these fruits exist, the duku-langsat, which is a mix of the duku and the langsat, as well as the longkong, which is a mix of the duku-langsat and the duku.
Another closely-related duo is the nangka (jackfruit) and the cempedak, which both have leathery, bumpy rinds. Inside are many segments of fibrous flesh, which are very sweet when ripe. Meanwhile, their cousin the sukun (breadfruit) is often plucked when semi-ripe. This large, globular fruit is usually cut into pieces, dipped into batter and deep fried as a snack. Many would describe its taste as resembling a yam or potato. When unripe, some types of pisang (banana) can also be served deep fried in batter. As bananas are perennial plants, they are among the most common fruits in Malaysia.
While there are not many citrus fruits grown locally, two varieties of limes are readily available – limau kasturi (calamansi) and limar purut (kaffir lime). These are often used as a flavouring agent in drinks and cooking. Their much larger cousin, the limau Bali (pomelo), is eaten on its own, and tastes like a mild grapefruit.
The list of popular Malaysian fruits can go on and on, but there are also many lesser-known fruits that aren’t grown commercially. For a taste of these rare treasures, one needs to venture into rural areas, where they still grow wild.