WTF Weds: Durian. Ugh. Durian.

Posted on
Jul 23, 2014
Posted in: Food, WTF, WTF Wednesdays

I would like to take a moment to talk about durian.

I have to. I have spent the larger part of the morning working on a post about the Khmer Rouge, and I very much need a mental break, and talking about stinky fruit will allow for that to happen.

So. Durian.

The stuff is notorious, and you’ve probably heard of it. Miraculously, I somehow failed to take a photo of the inside of the fruit (I think I was hypnotized by the smell) but here is its exterior:

 

I like to think of the spikes as being Mother Nature’s subtle way of saying, “Get back. Seriously.”

We tried it, courtesy of Nicci’s boyfriend, Eddie, while sitting poolside at our hotel in Siem Reap. There were a few pale-yellow pods, shaped almost like wedges of an orange, but bigger, fatter, and less juicy.

The texture was creamy and custardy and a bit stringy, like a mango.

But that isn’t what you want to know. You don’t care what the durian looked like. You probably don’t care about the texture. You just want to know what it tasted like, right?

Truth be told, it’s hard to describe. People often say it tastes “footy”, but I don’t think that’s terribly accurate (or maybe it’s that I don’t really know what feet taste like). Eddie described it best – it was like eating a cherimoya soaked in garlic butter. It was creamy and sweet and buttery, like a crème brûlée (in color and texture, too, interestingly enough), but there was a distinct additional flavor that made the experience far less enjoyable and far more memorable.

Some describe it as strangely savory (like Eddie’s garlic-butter comment), which isn’t too far off base. Others say footy. I would say vaguely rancid, as though the cream used to make this particular crème brûlée had a not-so-fresh onion floating in it.

I didn’t notice it initially – gobbling it up and (I now wince at the memory), licking my fingers and going back for more. This image is not sweetened by the fact that I was wearing a bathing suit at the time. The girls who hated me in high school would have relished at the scene of me in a too-small bikini, gorging on stinkfruit.

“I’m not feeling it,” Nicci said.

“Me neither,” Eddie agreed.

“You guys,” I said, my eyes wide. “I’m totally digging this.”

They looked at me as though I was insane, and in hindsight, I was. I was drunk on stinky fruit. I ate another piece, but by now the slightly rotten taste was beginning to catch up with me. The aftertaste was awful.

I would burp, repeatedly, over the next few hours, and disgust myself.

Durian is actually quite hard to find in a lot of places in Cambodia. Restaurants won’t carry it, people won’t buy it – it’s simply too pungent to keep on-hand. Nicci’s boyfriend purchased some from an open-air market, where we found stacks of it, piled high on blankets. (Later, he would ask one of the women working at our hotel to throw out the rest for him. The look on her face was nothing short of hilarious. She grimaced, holding the bag in between two of her fingers and holding it at arm’s length before walking out of the lobby with it. Bless you, Nga, for that and so many other things.)

 

I later realized that it was the smell of durian that had hit me when we first arrived in the country – a mixture of sour milk and rotting fruit.

And because it feels so tied to the country, so iconic and indicative of this region, I won’t tell you to avoid it. It’s something that, if you are in this part of the world, you should try. You need to. But I learned something important.

Lesson 12: Go easy on the durian.

For most of you, this should be simple. You won’t want to take more than a few bites. But a select handful of you may wish to gobble down far too much, to the disgust of your travel buddies, and, eventually, to your own disgust, too.

You’d think that experience would have been enough to hammer the message home, but it would take one more dalliance with durian (this time in ice cream form), and a 20-hour train ride before I really understood it. And by then, it was far, far too late. But more on that in another post.

Leave a Comment

  • I had never heard about it and couldn’t help thinking that Durian would be a great name for a Pokemon. It also kinda looks like one.

    • Durian would be an excellent name for a Pokemon. The fact that it is also a fruit shouldn’t prevent that.

      • Exactly. Do you think Geraldine would eat the Pokemon too? I mean, she ate spiders…God only knows what she’s capable of!

  • Mmmm feet-fruit… Doesn’t sounds so great but definitely sounds like it’s worth the experience. I hadn’t heard of this before you mentioned but if I even find myself in Cambodia I’ll keep a look out (and a smell)

    • Durian is commonly found all over S.E. Asia (when in season) and mostly grown in Thailand. It can also be found in post-frozen form (not recommended) in any Asian community in the U.S. So no need to tip toe through the minefields of Cambodia to get to this delectable fruit.

  • You would like durian your first time! Yay, so glad you tried it.

    But. BUT – have to say, those durians you tasted do not look top notch from the picture. They are Monthongs, definitely cut early off the tree, and a few days old. Not too shabby (I’ve seen far worse) but that will explain the strong rotten garlic aroma and burps. A fresh durian has a very earthy yet refreshing aroma, a bit like cut grass and a shot of mocha with caramel.

    I hope that you will check out my durian site sometime and say hello 🙂 We have lots and lots of tips for how to choose a good durian and also all about all the different kinds of durian you can get everywhere around the world. We’ve been to 13 countries for durian, and still counting! 😀 The site is http://www.yearofthedurian.com

  • You definitely got a bad durian. That’s why durians get a bad rap – they are sold without being freshly picked and without being ripened on the tree. A good durian is a favorite fruit of hundreds of thousands of people, including me! 🙂

    • If that’s a bad durian, you haven’t seen post frozen durians in the states. They look like zombie durians in the US!

  • I think Durian tastes like Penicillin. I gagged when I tried it, and I couldn’t go back for more.

    • Everywhereist

      OMG. Yes. The pink syrup stuff we used to get as kids, right?

  • Kate. L.

    In Malaysia, there are wordless “no durian” signs on the buses, right next to the no food or drink notices, and I’d expect to find them in Cambodia as well.

  • I’ve always been intrigued by Durian. One of these days I’m just going to have to man up, buy it at Uwajimaya, and hope it doesn’t completely stink up my apartment.

  • Loree

    Uwajimaya carries the whole fruit (albeit not fresh) if you get another craving. They also stock durian sugar wafer cookies in the cookie & pocky aisle. I got a package a while ago, thinking “How bad could this be? It’s not like sugar wafers have real fruit flavor anyway.”

    WRONG. Wrong, wrong, wrongity-WRONNNNNNG!

    I opened the package the tiniest amount, barely more than a pinprick, and the stench chased me out of the house. I couldn’t get any closer to eating it than that — I ended up having to wrap it in two Ziploc freezer bags and take it out to the curb.

    I consider myself a fairly adventurous eater, but I tip my hat to you.

    • Elizabeth

      My local Asian market has a sign by the durian wafers: “NO RETURNS on these cookies. They are supposed to taste that way.”

  • Pierre

    Here in Taiwan, the fruit (raw) is not very popular, although in season it’s sold in (generally outside) most supermarkets and in some markets. However, it is more often used in desserts and other cooked forms.

    For a long time, knowing what durian smells and tastes like, I refused to eat any durian-based desserts. One day, at lunch, in a local restaurant, all this changed. A friend “forced” me to have a taste of his delicious cobbler. I immediately ordered myself one. It had just the right balance of peaches and bananas. Much to my shock and surprise, it turned out to be durian cobbler. Apparently cooking durian gets rid of its distinctive after taste.

    As a side note, if you ever make it to Singapore, you would see “no durian” signs (like the “no smoking” signs) in many public places like the MRT (subway), hotels, offices, etc.

  • Have to agree with the others, those do not look like good durians. If you get the chance, try them in Malaysia or Singapore – different varietals, much more flavorful, bittersweet and almost alcoholic (in a good way, I promise).

    Darn, now I gotta go buy some.

  • Oh dear. I think I’m glad it wasn’t durian season when we were in Southeast Asia. I think I’ll take your word for it and cross that puppy right off my bucket list.

  • I had the exact same experience with durian in Kep, Cambodia! I bought a small one, dug in, and said “hey, this ain’t bad!” Of course, I was mouth-breathing for most of the time I was eating it (a decade ago, my dietetic intern friends and I experimented with durian wafer cookies from Chinatown, and it did not end well).
    I then idiotically ordered an entire two scoops of durian-flavored ice cream at Blue Pumpkin in Siem Reap. Boy, was that a mistake. I forced myself to finish it because, dammit, I paid for it, it was hot out and I was hungry, but that ice cream was durian overload. Fruit that can instantly murder you if it falls on your head should probably be avoided, anyway.

  • I’ve heard so many things about durians and I’m really curious. Based on the comments here they vary in taste? I’ve never been on this side of the world but when I’m traveling there, I will have to try a durian. But just a few bites:)

  • I hadn’t ever heard of durian until it was on an episode of Portlandia, though they never manage to eat it and I’m still curious what it looks like on the inside. I’m willing to try most things, so I’m sure I’d try it, though you don’t make it sound too tempting!!

  • HAHAHA, This is great… I didn’t like it at first, but after having it a few times it grew on me. I never really go out of my way to buy it or anything though. I will take a bite when someone else wants to venture off and try it. If you get it when it’s a bit harder its not as bad. At least the texture is crunchy rather than baby-poo. Oh durian… You funky fruit! Of course it’s like super amazing for you too- It’s considered a super food. Why can’t potato chips be a super food?!

  • I’ve been wanting to try Durian since I arrived here in SE Asia last week! I FINALLY got up the nerve to buy some tonight… at a night market. I put it in my fridge to have for breakfast tomorrow. But I just read your article and now I’m so scared!!! Ahhh!!!

    • ExoticNurse

      Oh poor thing. I feel your torture.. I just had one last week yuck!

  • Never seen durian. This fruit smells so bad? Why is it like to eat in Cambodia?

  • I have yet to read a good report about this….. fruit! I enjoy the reactions of those who have tried it tho’

  • I can only imagine the smell and then the dreaded durian burps! More power to you for trying it out!

  • I’ve traveled to south east Asia, but I had durian in los Angeles. It’s hard to come by, but if you get lucky and find durian in coconut milk, you will absolutely order a second helping.
    mmmmmmm…….

  • itstoospicy

    I always describe durian as ‘ripe mango marinated in hippie armpits’.

    • Everywhereist

      There’s a haiku in there somewhere.

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