Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fun New Foods: Durian Fruit

The main distinction about durian fruit is its notorious smell. It's a native of Asia, where the fruit is banned in public places, such as subways, malls, and hotels. That just piques my interest right there. Mother Nature created a fruit, which people actually eat, that's so noxious-smelling that it had to be banned in public places? Color me curious.

It's called "The King of Fruit." If I were a fruit, I'm not sure I'd want my king to be a stinkypants odor-challenged mega-fruit, but hey, to each their own, right?

Anthony Bourdain, the chef and food writer, described durian thusly "Its taste can only be described as...indescribable, something you will either love or despise. ...Your breath will smell as if you'd been French-kissing your dead grandmother."

Ok, so, perhaps not such a pleasant experience. But if it's that bad, then why do people eat it?! Perhaps it's like stinky cheese. Some of the best European cheese (don't get me started on the flavorless pasteurized cheese here in the States) smells as bad as your week-old sweaty socks. But tastes quite yummy when spread on bread or a cracker and eaten with relish (the emotion, not the food).

Hence a quote from a British traveler to Asia in 1599: "It is of such an excellent taste that it surpasses in flavor all the other fruits of the world."

Funny durian story involving a space suits, spray cans, and chastened hotel guests can be found here.

I find it amazing though, given how intermingled our senses of taste and smell are, that something that's quite that odiferous could turn into something quite so tasty. Maybe it's an acquired taste? Or maybe there's something in it that's just really tasty once eaten, just like there are some foods that smell great but then aren't so tasty (the roasted chestnuts they sell in the subway, for instance). But to some accounts, the durian flesh is almost like vanilla pudding, very creamy, and doesn't taste at all like the smell would suggest.

I've oft been curious about durian fruit. I've read about it in travelogues. I've seen it in the Super 88 (Chinese grocery store with tons of random international foods). I wouldn't have a problem buying some and trying it, because trying wacky new things is fun (I actually offered people Mexican-spiced dried worms at a party once, partly to see the looks on their faces. Only one person took me up on it).

But here's the thing, I have a really sensitive nose. So I don't want to put the durian fruit in my car, because the smell will stick around. I don't want to eat it outside, because I might get covered in the durian juice and then become stinky myself. I don't want to bring it home because then my condo will smell worse than the pig farms I've driven past in the countryside. So where do I eat it? If they offered it on a menu, I'd totally try some. But then, it would probably scare away all the customers, because they'd come in to the restaurant and then turn around and leave right away.

Maybe I should just wait until I finally manage to get to Asia and try it over there.

Have any of you tried durian fruit? If so, what was it like? If not, any inclination?


Charlotte said...

Do you live in the Seattle area?? That's where I'm from and we had an Asian supermart there called Ranch 88. Just wondering if it was a chain thingy...

Anyhow, for entertainment my dh and I used to each buy one random thing there and then we'd both eat it. Durian, in my opinion, was possibly the worst nastiest awfulest thing I've ever eaten. And I'll eat a lot of foul things (yes please to worms!). Let me know if you try it!

Tami Moore said...

I have definitely never tried it. Did you know it's illegal to sell in some places because of the smell?

And the airport security "do not bring" signs (you know, the ones with the big red circle with a cross through it, with guns, knives, explosives) ALSO has a picture of a durian fruit in the country it comes from?

Anything that smells so bad that it's an illegal substance in its country of origin is NOT on my forseeable menu.

...though I might try it if it was on a menu. Just to say I had.


The Lethological Gourmet said...

Charlotte, I live in the Boston area. That sounds like an awesome game, to always get one random thing at the store. I haven't been to the Super 88 in ages, I should go again. The worms were tried and not very good - they tasted like dusty Mexican spices.

Tami, that's funny that it's on the same poster with the guns and knives! I'm definitely not bringing it into my car or home...but maybe I'll do some research and see if any restaurants in the area have ever put it on their menus (I tend to doubt it...)

Leah J. Utas said...

Yeah, I give a Durian a go. I've eaten several interesting things over the years including,but not restricted to, muktuk (whale blubber), witchetty grub (it was cooked), and ants. I could probably find my way past the foul fragrance.

JavaChick said...

I used to watch Anthony Bourdain's show on the Food Network and I saw the one where he ate the Durian Fruit. He's pretty adventurous when it comes to food though. Personally, I have a feeling I wouldn't be able to get past the smell.