Durian, The Cheese of Fruits

19 Aug
Durian halves

Durian being packaged for consumption.

Durian is probably the world’s most notorious tropical fruit, and the only food substance banned from public spaces solely for its aroma. You’ve probably heard about durian from that Bizarre Foods show or Anthony Bourdain or Fear Factor. Right now it’s durian season, so it’s everywhere in KL.

And yes, it’s really that smelly.

It’s so smelly that when the doors of a supermarket open, you can tell if they’re selling durian, even though everything’s on ice and the durian itself is packaged in plastic and the husks immediately whisked away. It’s so smelly that we put our saran-wrapped package of durian in two plastic bags, and then in a crisper by itself, and it still stunk up the entire fridge.

So what does it smell like? Nothing you’ve smelled before. And it’s a scent with a particular unctuousness that coats your entire nasal cavity, overwhelming all of your scent receptors. But since I can’t embed scent files into this blog (yet), let me try to give you an idea. Imagine that plastic bag of onions and garlic that someone forgot about in the kitchen cabinet, only to be discovered by you on a hot summer’s afternoon. Then douse it in gasoline. Add a weird burning sensation in the back of your throat, and I think that about covers it. Durian on the street often has a top note of rotting meat, but thankfully refrigeration tames that particular dimension.

Now, I had always believed that it was the durian rind that was so stinky, and the fruit inside was, well, normal-fruit-smelling. Nope. Durian flesh is almost as bad as whole durian. But people loooove this stuff, so it must have some redeeming value, right? And the only way to find out…

The part of the durian you eat.

As with so many of these cult foods, there are rules. 1) No drinking (causes bloating). 2) Eat with mangosteen to counteract “heatiness.” 3) Don’t eat it on a date, because you’ll be burping up durian the whole night. I didn’t get as much of the heating, but Tom (the reason I’m in Malaysia in the first place) says it makes him burn up.

Much like the aroma, the flavor of durian is practically indescribable. On the first piece, the smell is almost overwhelming, as well as the cognitive dissonance of eating a sweet fruit that has the mouthfeel of custard and the smell of…well, durian. Then you have the second piece, and you start enjoying it; your scent receptors have given up, and more of a burnt-sugar flavor and a pleasant bitterness come through. Then, just as quickly, you’re done: I got through the third but I couldn’t take any more after that. It’s the least fruit-like fruit I’ve ever eaten.

Tom described it as a fruit that tastes like meat, but I think a better analogy is cheese — the super-stinky soft ones, like the Epoisses de Bourgogne, which, like durian, is banned on public transportation. You know, the ones that are half-melted even when you buy them, and smell like a teenage boy’s running shoes left in a hot gym locker for a month. Both cheese and durian are creamy, um, aromatic, and have intensely devoted connoisseurs. I’m planning to take full advantage of this durian season.

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7 Responses to “Durian, The Cheese of Fruits”

  1. Judy August 19, 2010 at 10:09 am #

    Oh Gauzline….that just sounds delectable….not really. I hope you’re having a blast! Miss you!

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