Options: Hurrah for Harumanis season again. Tell us what sets this variety apart from others. Some even consider it the mango equivalent of Musang King durians.
Datuk Rick Cheng: Harumanis is a bit like durian — you either love it or hate it. Its name is self-explanatory: harum (aromatic) and manis (sweet). It also has a very short harvest time, being available only once a year for two to three months — usually late April to early July — unlike other mangoes, which can be harvested all year-round. It is difficult to care for as Harumanis trees are sensitive to changes in weather and have a very high spoilage rate. All this is reflected in its price, hence the Harumanis’ nickname as the manja fruit.
Is it true only Harumanis mangoes from Perlis can be called as such?
Yes. The Intellectual Property Corporation of Malaysia (MyIPO) has explained that use of the Harumanis name applies exclusively to the variety of mangoes grown in Perlis, since it was registered back in 2011.
Tell us about your company, when it was established and the unique terroir of Bukit Chuping.
Harumango Sdn Bhd was established in 2015 and Harumango is also the brand name of our Harumanis mangoes that we grow at our farm in Bukit Chuping, Perlis. Due to the high lime content in the soil and also the conducive weather, our farm is one of the best places to grow premium grade Harumanis.
How did you come across the Bukit Chuping site?
Initially, we had bought the land for a housing project. Due to some reason, the development was called off. We didn’t know what to do with the land until a lawyer friend of mine suggested: “Grow Harumanis, the icon of Perlis”. The rest, as the saying goes, is history. Currently, we have 1,300 trees on a 23-acre farm. We plan to acquire more land in Perlis suitable for premium-grade Harumanis. We also hope the state and federal governments could provide more incentives to encourage private companies to grow more local fruits.
Tell us a little bit about the Harumanis varietal.
I have to say that this is the hardest mango to cultivate and also the most expensive mango in the country. Usually, it takes three to four years for the trees to mature, after which they can bear fruit for up to 30 years. Current market prices of Harumanis range from RM30 to RM70 per kilo depending on the quality, but the costs involved are tremendous: from irrigation to fertilisation, pruning and clearing [the land] … not to mention the additional work during the flowering and harvest seasons.
We have to wrap every single mango by hand with paper and the time to wrap the fruits is also crucial. Wrap too early, the mango won’t grow properly. Wrap too late and the mango might be eaten by monkeys. During harvest season, we need to guard the farm 24 hours a day for fear of theft. I must add that Harumango only employs local farmers to work at our farm.
How is Harumanis best enjoyed?
Harumanis is best enjoyed within three to five days after picking or harvesting. Usually, the skin of Harumanis remains green, but it’s ripe inside already. The best way to determine if it’s ripe is to have a good sniff. If the aroma is there and the texture is slightly soft, it’s time to dig in! Harumango also offers Harumanis puree made from Grade B fruits. This can then be made into Harumanis jam, ice cream and cheese cake. Seasoned Harumanis connoisseurs have their own of savouring the fruit, but for me, the best way to enjoy Harumanis is to eat it plain, using your hands.
Tell us a little about yourself. There’s more to your portfolio than just mangoes.
My family has been involved in property for more than 20 years, under the Encomas group of companies. Now, we have diversified into agriculture by growing premium grade Harumanis. F&B is another story, with our Caffè Diem outlets in Alor Setar and soon in Jejawi, Perlis, with more to come in the pipeline.
For the first-time visitor to Alor Setar, what are your top recommendations to see, do and eat?
My 24-hour itinerary includes breakfast at the famous (and halal) Lai Huat Curry Mee before visiting the paddy museum nearby. Kedahans are famously friendly and the farmers won’t mind you visiting their fields. I would suggest lunch at Manzur Capati for freshly-made, pan-hot breads next to Masjid Nagore, after which you can walk it off around Medan Bandar, visiting the old palace and the iconic Masjid Zahir, ranked the sixth-most beautiful mosque in the world. You could also walk to Pekan Melayu, where Tun Mahathir’s clinic is located.
You must, of course, then have a caffeine jolt at Caffè Diem and [its sister outlet] Diem Bakery in Pekan Cina, which is parallel to Pekan Melayu, our heritage enclave along Sungai Anak Bukit. Try our signature Coconut Cream Latte paired with a slice of Lemon Poppy Seed Cake, the favourite of our late Agong. Have dinner at Hai Kee, an 80-year-old Hainanese restaurant, or Nasi Lemak Haji Ali for addictive ayam goreng. Stay overnight at Hotel 38PC, which has a lovely rooftop pool with a view.
What are you reading right now?
Anna: The Biography by Amy Odell as I am curious about [Vogue editor] Anna Wintour’s life. Also, The Tree Whisperer, the biography of the late [Tan Sri] Lee Shin Cheng, founder of the IOI Group.
What are you listening to right now?
Let It Be by The Beatles. I don’t know why, but this song calms me down every time I play it.
Describe your idea of a perfect weekend.
Waking up late, enjoying brunch and reading my newspapers, including The Edge Malaysia. Then some quality time with my daughter and son, a latte at Caffé Diem or cup of Nanyang coffee at Diem Bakery before heading home for a simple home-cooked meal by my wife or eating out at one of our favourite restaurants.
This article first appeared on Apr 24, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.