I tasted Durian for the first time at a night market in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia with a group of happy, drunk couchsurfers. We purchased the fruit, as heavy as a baby and as sharp and prickly as a hedgehog, then watched the seller hack it open with a huge knife.
As soon as the creamy, soft flesh was exposed the odor hit our nostrils. It reminded me of rotting compost, or what my socks smell like in the Southeast Asian heat when I haven’t done laundry for a while. Even with the husk unbroken, this notorious fruit is so pungent that it is banned on Singapore Rapid Mass Transit and in many other public places in Southeast Asia. It’s aroma has been compared to rotting meat, feces and dead bodies.
I reluctantly sampled a spoonful of the gooey fruit.
At first, I was fooled into thinking that the taste was sweet. The initial impression on the tongue is sugary, but as the aftertaste takes over the flavour is pungent and bitter like rotten mushy onions. The final flavor stings the mouth with an acidic burn, like after vomiting.
I’m not a fan – and I’m not the only one. Writer Anthony Burgess compared the taste to “eating sweet raspberry blancmange in the lavatory.” In this Munchies article, the writer describes it as a “hellish monstrosity of Satan food”. There’s something quite heady and nauseating about the combination of sweetness and the earthy, ripe, rotten smell.
In an article in China’s Global Times newspaper there was a story of an early importer who brought samples of Durians to China. When a hotel cleaner opened the door to the importer’s room, she immediately vomited in reaction to the stench of the fruits inside.
However, a surprising number of people like it! It is known as the “King of Fruits” in Southeast Asia and it is commonly used as a flavour in many yummy edibles including baked goods, biscuits, milkshakes, ice creams, candy and more. In fact, Pizza Hut in China is even using it as a topping! When durian is combined with other flavours such as in baked goods or pizza, some find that it’s potent taste is balanced and more palatable. You may agree, or you may think that there is no way this fruit could possibly be delicious.
Whether you love it or you hate it – sampling Durian is a must when you are traveling in Southeast Asia. Be adventurous and go outside of your comfort zone! Just be prepared with a drink to wash the taste out of your mouth if you don’t like it!
Things You Should Know About Durian
- When choosing a durian, look for a fruit with light coloured spikes and avoid the ones with dark brown patches. Also, avoid fruits with bits of white between the spikes, as they are signs of over-ripeness.
- Be careful when handling the fruit – the spikes are sharp enough to cut your skin.
- Watch where you eat durian – it is banned in many public places.
- When it comes to washing your hands after eating the fruit, try running hot water on the durian skin. It will create a mild lye water which you can combine with soap to get rid of the smell.
Have you tried durian? Would you try it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.