Friday, March 15, 2013

What the heck is that? Durian fruit

You can't say it doesn't warn you.

First, there's its appearance. Heavy, armored and spiky.

I dare you

I double dare you

We've seen some armored fruit before - guanabana and jackfruit  (aka in Brazil as graviola and jaca, respectively), for example. But those fruit are not as, well, mean-looking.This fruit looks positively belligerent in comparison.

And then there's the smell. Oh Lord, the smell.

Looking weird but deceptively cute here

I first heard about durian fruit when I went to Asia over a decade ago. I ended up flying with Cathay Pacific, which uses Hong Kong as its hub, but nearly took Sinapore Airlines. As an inveterate gum chewer, I was somewhat alarmed to learn that gum chewing was prohibited in Singapore and figured it would behoove me to learn what else was on the no-no list. Some sources said that a large and distinctive fruit called durian was banned in Singapore because of what Wikipedia called "its stomach churning odor...described variously as almonds, rotten onions, turpentine, raw sewage and gym socks."

I was, of course, intrigued.

When I arrived in Asia, I made sure to seek out the durian fruit. They're not hard to find: durians are very popular, and their scent announces their presence. Even in their mighty shells, durians manage to convey their scent.  I've only smelled durian outdoors and in someone's very well ventilated home (every window and the front door opened for the occasion) and my knees still nearly buckled. I could only imagine how overpowering the smell could be in tight quarters.

If you are expecting An Experience, durian fruit do not disappoint. Many vendors will sell you a chunk of the fruit if you'd like. 

A scary gill slit?

Or two.

The removed flesh looks a bit like a lobe of an internal organ. An organ you might need.

The durian's texture is firm-creamy, kind of like avocado - not surprising given the fruit's high-for-produce fat content. Nevertheless the overall impression is eerie.

Back to the smell. One of the wildest aspects of the durian's scent is its overpowering nature. It's as if someone came in and coated the inside of your nostrils with Essence of Durian. You simply can't shake the scent.

The durian's taste is like that too. It is an astounding mixture of sweet custard and fetid onions, and it will positively coat your tongue - and linger. Here's a description from Cami Oger of Le Manger 

Once you have clearly identified this smell, after a few encounters with the durian, you cannot go wrong. You know exactly what is it is. Then, when you have a taste of it for the first time, you’re not surprised. Its taste is the solid expression of this stink...The powerful taste is followed by an even more powerful after-taste. Don’t even think about getting rid of it. Oh yeah, you can eat all you want to cover it. But you will only get a weird mix of the taste of what you’re eating and the after-taste of the fruit that won’t let go. Even worse : when you think you have finally beaten the taste, after brushing your teeth 4 times, 2 hours later, you will have a strong tendency to burp. Yes, durian is sneaky. It is not easy to digest. And with the burping, hop, you get the taste all over again.

Simply reading this description is almost enough to evoke the smell and taste for me -- and to give me my fill. But some people can't get enough! Most Southeast Asian countries have deep appreciation for durian fruit and a great number of recipes - durian cheesecakes and durian pastries, ice creams and custards, rice dishes, curries - that feature it. Care for a chocolate with a durian center? I've enjoyed the expressions on the faces of people who bit into bread topped by vegemite thinking it was chocolate. The unsuspecting eater of a durian-centered chocolate (presumably attributing That Smell to something else) is bound to top that one.

Go ahead, add chowing down some of the "king of fruits" to your bucket list. You might love it! You might be inspired to host Durian Fest (and conclude that the Fest merely whets your appetite for more durian.) You might even use it as a means of exploring Southeast Asia, as the bloggers behind Year of the Durian do. Or one taste might be enough. After all, that taste might hang around for a while.

1 comment:

  1. I’ve been taken to task for not including more nutritional info about durians, so I’ll add it here: durian fruits are excellent sources of B-complex vitamins and potassium and good sources of Vitamin C, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium and tryptophan, an essential amino acid.