Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Weird Food Wednesdays: Durian

Durian: The World's Stinkiest Fruit!

The durian, king of all fruit! But does it really smell like old gym socks? Or as chef Anthony Bourdain so eloquently put it,"Like the whiff of a long dead relative"?

I was eighteen and visiting Singapore with my father when I first encountered the notorious durian. We picked up a small package of durian from a street vendor on our way back to our hotel. Seemed innocuous enough - buttery pods of tropical fruit already picked from their shell, wrapped tightly in several layers of plastic wrap. I didn't smell anything foul at the time. My father made the mistake of storing it in our mini-bar fridge while we went out for dinner. Upon returning to our hotel, we discovered several messages from the front desk on our phone. "Someone" had brought durian into the hotel and guests were complaining about the offensive odor. But not to worry, hotel security were methodically checking every floor and room for the offender. OOPS! We quickly snuck out of the hotel and discarded the evidence before I could even taste it.

My next encounter with durian was just as unfortunate. Kris and I were in Vancouver for our honeymoon and were sampling ice cream at La Casa Gelato. Feeling brave, I asked to try their durian flavor. It was definitely unusual and intense, tropical in flavor but with a weird aftertaste. I wasn't quite sure what to make of it, but I didn't hate it so I got Kris to try it. Big mistake - Kris was so repulsed that he said if I ordered a full scoop he would never kiss me again! So I chose mango gelato that day to save our marriage. Fast forward a couple years. While staying with my parents in Vancouver, my mother (who loves durian) left a full plate of it out for Kris to try. I wish you could have seen Kris valiantly choke down a few pieces so as not to offend my mother! Kris is so sensitive now that he can smell fresh durian a mile away. Fortunately, durian is usually frozen before being imported to North America, masking most of the offensive odor (which returns with a vengeance once thawed!)

So what does this fruit with the bad reputation actually taste like? Durian lovers often describe it tasting like sweet buttery custard. Haters describe it as tasting like rotting onions. Personally, I don't mind the taste of durian, it's just a stronger version of the other strange tropical fruits I grew up eating. The consistency of fresh durian is creamy, like an avocado. The flavor is surprisingly mild compared to the pungent aroma, exotic like a guava or papaya, but there's a strange savory element that surprises you like raw garlic on your palate. I can only handle a little bit at a time - durian's like the gift that keeps on giving because it'll linger in your burps for the rest of the day. Southeast Asia can't get enough of durian. Singaporeans are so passionate about durian that they modeled their Esplanade performing arts centre after this unique fruit (locals fondly refer to their arts centre as "the Durian"). Ironically, Singapore's national fruit is forbidden on their MRT(subway) system and banned from most hotels (which my dad and I found out the hard way). Andrew Zimmern, the chef who enjoys eating bull's testicles, moose nose jelly and other culinary oddities as host of the Travel Channel's "Bizarre Foods", found the taste of durian so offensive that he immediately spit it out. But I've also watched Anthony Bourdain eat durian with gusto on his own travel show "No Reservations". So I guess you'll either love it or hate it. And don't fall asleep beneath a durian tree (a blow to the head from a ripe durian will probably kill you). But promise me you'll at least give it a try if you ever get the chance. The durian is said to be an aphrodisiac for women - an old Malay saying goes, "When the durians fall, the sarongs fly up!"

Kris, in front of the Esplanade Center ("the Durian") in Singapore



Anonymous said...

My closest enounter with the Durian occurred in Sinapore as well. We tried it in the gelato and could not get used to the taste. I still intend to brazen it out and pick up some fruit from the market and try it at home, but have not found the courage just yet.

Nate-n-Annie said...

There's nothing like a fresh durian, cracked open right in front of you. The sweetness is just amazing.

Garlicqueen said...

A Vietnamese restaurant in Denver used to make durian ice cream. It was absolutely fabulous. But I've also heard that Singapore Airlines has banned durian from the skies.

YCT said...

I love durians but almost everyone I know hate it so I never bothered to collect any recipes. I can think of worser smelling foods - e.g., kimchi (likewise, I find that delicious too.)

Val said...

I remember the first time I tried durian. My uncle bought it and as soon as he cracked it open, my sister ran out of the kitchen from the smell. My mom yelled from the basement, "Gross! Is that durian?!"
I just can't bring myself to eat a fruit that smells like fart, no matter how creamy!

Anonymous said...

I recently tried the durian ice cream at La Casa Gelato and actually liked it. I'm not brave enough to get a whole scoop yet though. My husband, on the other hand, told me that he would never forgive me for making him taste it and would never forget the flavor. Haha.

Na'imah said...

We tried it on a trip to Indonesia last year and almost finished a whole one - it was really good!

Robert said...

I love durian. I would go to the Asian markets here and buy a frozen one. Beleive it or not, I do not mind the odor at all. I first I did, but I am used to it. It is too good to pass up. Durian pudding is also good. Durian is a very good source of potassium.