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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Durian

No, I'm not lying - the smell of durian has been described as that of turpentine and onions, gym socks, civet, sewage, stale vomit, skunk spray, used surgical swabs, garbage, moldy cheese, rotting fish and dead cats. Even where the fruit is popular in Southeast Asia, it is actually banned from some establishments such as hotels, subways and airports. The scent is so strong it can be picked up by animals half a mile away. The husk is incredibly spiky and dangerous to handle - mine was wrapped in newspaper before bagging. And I am not particularly enamored with the look of the flesh, which has been described by some as custardy in consistency - that's being generous. Click here for photos of the fruit cut open and its flesh.
The fruit is still relatively unknown in America where it is found primarily in Asian markets - I purchased mine in Chinatown for $7 - it is not inexpensive. Durian is strictly tropical, originating from Indonesia and Malaysia with Thailand now the primary exporter. In Asia, where it is hailed as the King of Fruits, the smell is prized - the smellier the better. Many eat it every day. Durian goes back to prehistoric times and is the subject of legend and myth. There is a virtual world surrounding this fruit - click here for an in depth article.
I've planned on writing about this fruit for sometime - yesterday I finally purchased one and brought it back to the office for all to share. I can still see and taste this thing this morning but I'm really giving it a second and third chance, hoping it grows on me. The first time I tried to eat durian, I was absolutely revolted, so this time I was better prepared - for those not used to it, Durian is truly an acquired taste. I'm going to try some again today. Wish me luck ...

Footnote: In an interesting twist, a no-stink variant was developed in 2007 in Thailand by scientist Dr. Songpol Somsri. After working for decades and crossing 90 varieties of durian, he has created Chantaburi No. 1. It reputedly has an odor as mild as a banana.

22 comments:

naomid said...

Very brave blogging. The smell is enormous.

Anonymous said...

You are a brave man.

Lucy said...

very interesting in regard to the subjective nature of what is delicious or not...
or smells good or not.
I wonder how people got into this in the first place, if it is so much the acquired taste. Maybe it works much better as a cooking ingredient...

Rian said...

We have this fruit in the southern part of the Philippines and the first time I've tasted it was when I was already working. I've eaten it raw, as a candy & as a pie. I very much preferred the Durian Pie version. :)

Ruth said...

Ugh - I once holidayed in Malaysia and all the taxi's have "NO DURIANS" signs in them!

TOG said...

25 years ago I tried to grow a durian in south Florida. A friend brought some plants into Florida and he gave me one to see if it would grow in Coral Gables. The tree was two feet tall when I planted it and after 4 years it was one foot tall. At that time it was pitched out. Years after I learned that they nead two trees to get fruit. I am not sure about a durian that doesn't have a strong smell. I'm a cheese lover and at times strong smell is very important. Hope you love to learn one of the worlds best tropical fruit.

marley said...

The inside made me exclaim loudly!! It does not look good. And the smell, the way you've described it, ewww! You are one brave blogger. What did your work mates think of it?!

RD said...

I am so, so curious about this fruit. I've known about it forever, but have never seen (or tasted one). I don't know if it's the angle or the background of your image, but your picture makes this one appear ENORMOUS. And I think it's just terrible that they've tampered with it and taken its smell away--what's the point of the durian now?

Brian said...

marley;
Two people are Asian - one likes it, the other doesn't. Everyone else had a rough time - there is still plenty left.

rd;
It is the size of a large melon. Only one variety has had the odor taken away. We haven't even seen them around. I wouldn't worry for now. Most devotees like the stinky ones :)

David said...

Enjoyed your narrative . . .but not really enough inspiration to spend seven bucks or try a tasting . . . but thanks as always for your blog . . .

b13 said...

Why...why...why? I have an iron stomach and was getting sick from your description. Some things are meant to be seen... from far, far away ;)

Anonymous said...

Looks like one of the pods from "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." Did you actually eat it? If I saw that thing on my neighbors fire escape (a good place for it, btw) I'd call 911.

Chuck Pefley said...

Interesting to hear about and to see with it's clothes on, but I'm glad I'm experiencing the unique odor via the internet. I believe you should eat my share. -:)

Halcyon said...

I do not like the durian and have to clue why people would want to "acquire" a taste for it. :)

RD said...

Ah, I didn't know that the durian was as large as a melon--always thought it was small enough to fit into the palm of the hand. I've been completely fooled by photos. Thanks for your educational blog!

rose said...

i've eaten durian since i was 5 yrs old and its the best ever. in the philippines, it only grows in the mindanao region. i won't wash my hands with soap so i can smell the heavenly scent all day. when i was old enough to go clubbing, my friends and i will go to an all night fruit stand and have one whole durian each, no sharing, and eat it right there by the sidewalk. too much of it, though, will heat up your body and make you a little lightheaded. i will never trade durian for all the fruits found here in the west. there is nothing to compare it with.

Jules said...

I'm Malaysian and have grown up eating Durian. I must congratulate you for at least trying and giving it a second chance! I hope you find the taste good after a few tries. ;)

Lav said...

I'm from Singapore and over here it's a common sight. But even here some people loathe it. It's not allowed in cabs or in trains because smell is really pungent. But personally, it is one of my faourite fruits. It's really quite difficult to describe because no two are alike. Some are diabetically sweet, others a bitter. My personal favourite are the bittersweet ones. Yes it is an acquired taste, but i don't think one can grow to like. You either do or you don't. Unless of course on the first try you get one tasting abslutely bland or absolutely bitter putting you off it for the rest of your life.
I had the hugest craving for it recently so it's a good thing it's not too difficult to find here. A note to add. Too much of this makes one 'heaty' ( i suppose this means it raises the body temperature) so it's not advised after eating it to drink a stiff one soon after. But kudos on having a try.

Anonymous said...

I must say i simply love this fruit. I found it in an asian market on cleveland and it's been my all time fav fruit. I guess u either love it or hate it. :)

a fren once said it's like eating ice cream in d toilet!

Anonymous said...

First, second, third and fourth time I tried it tasted very bad to my. I couldn't stand it! But nowadays, I'm one more of those people who dream each day in eating a Durian (now difficult, because living in Europe). And I'm Asian, I'm from Catalonia.

Anonymous said...

I came across this fruit during a trip in Indonesia. I got addicted to it and I am glad I was able to get in the an Asian Market not far away from where I live. Since then I buy one weekly.

Guys believe me - do not get scared by its consistency and smell. Give it a try more than once, it is like gorgonzola, its smells like socks but many loves it!

David

Varsung said...

Excuse me? I happen to love the durian. And the smell is nice. The flesh itself is creamy and sweet or slightly bitter. Depending on the kind of durian you buy. I prefer 101, 24, 10, 15 and several others.

You guys shouldn't look down at it or say such things just cos it ain't commonly found whre you're from. And yes, I'm Malaysian.