Well, our last Odd Eats experience with ambergris might have been distinct smelling but at least it was subtle. This week's Odd Eats is everything but! Durian is one of the naturally strongest smelling fruits I've ever come across. And apparently I'm not the only one who feels that way. In Singapore, it is actually forbidden to even have any of the fruit with you on public transport and in some hotels because its odor is considered so revolting by some. One thing's for sure: it seems to be a love-it-or-hate it kind of food.
This tropical fruit is native to Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia but is now also grown in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, India, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, Florida, Hawaii, Papua New Guinea, the Polynesian Islands, Madagascar, southern China, northern Australia, and Singapore. A quick trip through the interwebs reveals a range of interesting descriptions of the fruit from the flattering, “…a food of the most exquisite flavour it is unsurpassed,” to the slightly less-than, “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.” (Gotta love Tony Bourdain).
My first experience with durian was a few years back in Taiwan where I ingested it only through my nose in the open air produce markets. One smell and I was sure I didn't want to eat it. So since I was already biased I decided to try this infamous fruit out for the first time right alongside my boyfriend who is a passionate durian lover. And wow did we have differing opinions!
First off, I shall we say… affected THREE freezers in the process of eating this fruit. I transported it from friend's house to friend's house and left all their ice boxes smelling… distinctive. Through a plastic bag and a paper bag… fully frozen…distinctive. The interesting thing to me is that my reaction to the smell and his reaction to the smell are essentially opposite even though we actually describe the smell in a similar way. It should be noted that his first taste of durian was at the age of six traveling through Southeast Asia. My first taste was at the elderly age of twenty seven. I'm already a closed-minded, crotchety old lady!
So what I can only describe as a sweet tropical fruity richness followed by a pungent rotten onion smell, he describes as, “Yum!” He said one whiff and his mouth waters like crazy. His descriptors of its taste included onion, garlic, fruit liqueur, “a little banana in there,” natural gas, garbage, “the essence of tropical countries,” heavy cream, garlicky ice cream and “this can NOT be low cal.”
I would agree with all of those, especially the onions, the natural gas, the garbage and, strangely, the fruit liqueur. I can't compare it to another fruit because to me the fruitiness is unlike any other. It truly is sweet and rich, pulpy and meaty, like cherimoya with an even thicker custard consistency, but its aftertaste, which seems to travel up your throat, down your nose, and then back up and around again for hours after consumption, is incredibly powerful and I personally found it extremely unpleasant. However, I must say: I could definitely see developing a taste for durian. It's rich, it's distinctive and it's truly tropical. And I mean I do love onions…
In sum: Creamy, fruity, odiferous… polarizing. There simply is no other fruit like durian.