I had a dream … . A dream of red durian!
Ever since I came upon a seemingly impossible National Geographic photo of red durian, I was under its crimson spell; and a goal and aspiration was to one day visit the jungle paradise of Borneo to try one of these rare ruby treasures!
It was a nice ongoing dream, and every time I saw another photo of this amazing fruit, I thought, “Well … maybe one day!”
Little did I know that dream was to be realised in 2015 with the kind invitation to visit Brunei from Mewsum Wong and her wonderful colleagues in the Raw Food Asia team.
On March 13, Cappi and I flew to Brunei to begin an exciting five-day tour of one of the most beautiful places I have ever had the pleasure to visit.
From the moment we landed, the sweet tropical warmth enveloped us, matched only by the equally warm welcomes we received from everyone we met.
Before I left, a friend told me that she had lived in Brunei 28 years ago and that the people were so lovely—the intervening years have done nothing to change this—and the love and care we felt from the local people was as special as the delicious fruits we ate.
I feel that in the usual recommendations of places to visit, in Southeast Asia, Brunei may be not so well-promoted. It seems somewhat underrated compared with some of the more popular destinations; however, I would highly recommend Brunei to anyone who values beautiful humans, sublime fruit and amazingly enchanting rainforests.
As a destination that ticks all the usual raw vegan boxes—delicious fruit, warm climate and reasonable prices—I think Brunei also has several advantages over many of its Southeast Asian counterparts.
Firstly, there is no public smoking in Brunei; since 2007, strict regulations on the sale of tobacco products combined with no-cigarette advertising ensures smoke-free air everywhere in the sultanate. Secondly, there are very low levels of logging in Brunei; logging is tightly controlled and regulated, and only certain species of trees are logged. The results are that almost 72 percent of Brunei is forested, and the country still has 69 percent of its original primary forests in exceptionally fine condition—one of the highest percentages in the world.
One of the highlights of our time in Brunei was trekking through the pristine jungle with “Jungle Dave,” where we learnt jungle survival techniques as well as how to find delicious raw vegan forest foods.
Keeping the sylvan environment in such good balance helps ensure low numbers of mosquitoes because the purity of the habitat allows dragonflies to flourish, which aids with regulating the mosquito population. I did not get bitten once by a mosquito during my entire stay!
Of course, there is another major attraction of this lush land, one that is a big draw for all raw vegans, and that is the amazing variety and high quality of the local fruits. In my opinion, the fruit of Brunei is amongst the finest in the world.
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Brunei also has some of the most amazing fruit biodiversity of anywhere on the planet. The reasons for this are many and include Brunei’s current pristine environment, the year-round humidity and heat, the coming together in Brunei of species from different land masses, a large range of microenvironments and rich, fertile soils.
So what are some of Brunei’s finest fruit treasures that we were fortunate enough to sample:
- The red durian (Durio graveolens) is not all about appearance! It does taste just as good as it looks, with none of the sulphury smell of the white and yellow varieties; it smells a lot like peanut butter and has a similar savoury, nutty taste. The texture is wonderful, too, with a dense yet creamy flesh with a solid and satisfying consistency. It is one fruit that I would love to eat again, and I have a very strong and pleasant memory of its unique and special taste.
- Another star of Brunei’s fruitopia is the chempedak (Artocarpus interger) also known as tibadek, and a relative of jackfruit and marang. Chempedak is a bit like jack’s more sophisticated cousin, with caramel and chocolate undertones, deep layers of luscious flavours and a highly moreish effect—basically once you start you just can’t stop eating it!We were fortunate enough to be in Brunei at the height of chempedak season; market stalls and local trees were laden with these delicious fruits. The most outstanding one we had was an indigenous cultivar from someone’s back garden; this fruit tasted like the best box of chocolates, with its mix of rich candy and cocoa flavours.
- Then there is the mighty marang (Artocarpus odoratissimus Blanco), or tarap, as it is known in Brunei, a soft, pillowy marshmallow of a fruit that melts in the mouth and tastes like a fruitarian sweetshop! Marang is considered one of the finest fruits in Brunei and is highly esteemed by local people. Marang is native to Brunei, its appearance is a large oval fruit covered with very slender soft spines, which turn from green to brown as the fruit ripens. The fruit is ready to eat when the skin breaks with a little pressure, revealing the delicate white pods within.
- A sweet and refreshing counterpoint to these rich, dense fruits is the delightfully juicy langsat (Lansium domesticum Correa), perfect for the hot, humid climate. The langsat is a little luscious ball of juice, with hints of sharp, musky grapefruit.Similar to a longan in appearance, you peel the thin golden husk to expose the translucent juicy interior. Locals refer to this fruit as “Brunei Darussalam golden grape.”
- An interesting fruit that again is rarely seen outside of Brunei is the bembangan (Mangifera panjang). A medium-size oval fruit with brown potato-like skin, it certainly does not stand out in the crowd! Inside, however, it has vivid orange stringy flesh with definite similarities to the common Mango.Varieties are said to vary greatly in flavour. We were fortunate to taste a sweet and flavoursome variety that was offered to us by a group of local schoolchildren.
We met the children at the amazing Eco Ponies Gardens, and the children gave us some interesting presentations of their local fruits, which included some tastings! Eco Ponies Gardens is a delightful community garden where local people come together to plant fruit trees, create vegetable gardens, share knowledge and connect and network in a beautiful and verdant environment. More details on this organisation can be found on its Facebook page.
Eco Ponies Gardens was just one of the inspiring eco organisations that we visited during our stay in Brunei. We were also fortunate enough to stay at the very beautiful Bintuduh Greensprings resort in the Tutong district. The Greensprings resort is a little piece of lush paradise in the Tutong region of Brunei. Myriad varieties of fruits grow there, and the resort is also inhabited by many local animals, including fellow fruit-loving monkeys!
It was wonderful start to the day to watch the monkeys deftly jumping from branch to branch, high up in the misty forest canopy, as they look for their breakfast.
Another lovely place we stayed was at Kemariah Duraman’s beautiful homestay. Kemariah’s home was in Brunei’s water village. Accessible only by boat, the village has its own schools, shops and floating fire station!
Another highlight of the visit was to be able to give talks on the health, ethical and environmental benefits of fruit to government officials and local high school children.
It was so inspiring and such a pleasure to visit Brunei not only to sample the wonderful fruit treasures but to see the grassroots local environmental organisations that are developing there and the way the local people are involved in helping to maintain the beauty and uniqueness of their country.
In addition, to connect with local children and government ministers and share fruit knowledge was very precious.
Mewsum and her team at Raw Food Asia are doing a very effective job of promoting the many benefits of the raw vegan diet, and they are using their raw energy to great advantage in helping their country to become a healthier place to live. They have more than 21,000 members in their Facebook group.
To conclude, I would highly recommend Brunei as a wonderful destination for anyone who is on a raw vegan diet. Not only for the fruit but for the truly wonderful people, pristine jungles, clean air and sultry tropical climate—a place that will touch your heart forever.