June 15, 2011

Durian 101

What, you may ask, is this?  

It's Durian on the stem.

It's fruit.  It's from Indonesia.

People from Malaysia and the Philippines will tell you it's native to their countries.  Botanists seem to agree that it's most likely native to Borneo (part of Indonesia).  Why anyone would want to fight over ownership of this fruit is beyond me, but we're going to give it to Indonesia FTW out of loyalty to our current home.

And it's the most controversial fruit we have ever come across.

Durian (der-ee-en).  They are about as big as your head, but they come in many sizes from baby heads to watermelon size.

They grow in trees, and people who work in Durian orchards wear hard hats.  The fruit is heavy and spiky and hard, and while a falling coconut will give you a headache and a lump, a falling Durian will probably send you to the hospital.

So anyway.  We live in a city nicknamed "The Big Durian" by the expats who have lived here since the 1600s.  The meaning concerns the love/hate relationship many have to this city and the fruit.

And there's the issue.  To begin with, Durian smells.  And I'm not talking about mild halitosis, or some whiffs of stinky feet.

I'm talking pervasive, rotten-sweet, sharp, thick fruit flavored toe jam.

It's really, really bad smelling.  Really.

Durian has a season, beginning in June.  And although we have seen it in stores all year, beginning in June it shows up in all the stores sitting on ice in styrofoam trays minus its thorny skin, wrapped in plastic wrap.

Plastic wrap does nothing to slow the spread of Durian smell.  So when you walk through the produce department of local stores right now, all you can smell is ...

... well, think about the gym socks you forgot in the bottom of your bag when you went away for the holidays, but now you're home and just opened the bag again. 

Some people say it's more like rotten onions.  Others claim it's like skunk spray.  Or vomit.

My son is of the vomit school of thought.  Actually he thinks it's more like vomit on rotten gym socks.  So you can imagine the drama when we go to the grocery store and spend more than two minutes in the produce department.

He is not a fan.

So, why, you may further ask, do people eat it?

Well, the local lore says that it tastes way better than it smells. That once you taste it, you will never believe you've lived this long without it.

This is one of those times when we wonder who was the first poor slob to try it?  Must have been one starving castaway with no ship mates to slay and BBQ, because I think I would have tried just about anything on my island before giving Durian a go.

But.  We love to go new places, see new things, try new foods, and it hardly seems sporting to move to a city called the Big Durian and never try the fruit because it smells bad.


Tell it to my kid.

We stopped at the ice table full of Durian fruit trays.  We poked them (they are squishy inside the hard thorny skin and we have seen people who know what they are doing poke them).  We found the smallest package they had for RPH42,000 (about $4.75).   It's expensive- think Avocadoes in Illinois in winter. If it costs a lot it MUST be good, right?

We put the Durian in our basket.

My kid says, "I'm not eating that."

He is behind me, and I just smile.

We finish our grocery shopping and wheel our cart to the checkout.  No one within 10 feet has any doubt we are buying Durian.

We load the groceries in the car, all camouflaged in their plastic sacks.  Our driver has no doubt we have bought Durian.

We start the 45 minute ride home.

After 15 minutes, Coop and I, being closest to the groceries, are holding little cans of car deoderant in Jasmine flavor just under our chins.  It's working.  Ted says, "I can smell it a little up here."

Too bad.  We are out of car deoderant cans.

Finally we arrive home.  I go into the pantry and grab a ziploc bag with a double zip and put the Durian package, wrapped in the plastic grocery sack, inside and seal it.  Phew!  It worked.

I put the Durian in the fridge, on the theory that old gym socks taste better very cold.

Next day, the fridge is starting to smell suspicious.  So I get out the Durian and tell my guys it's time.

My kid says, "I'm not eating that."

I smile again.

I open the package, get three dessert forks, and everyone loads up a healthy forkful.  Even my kid, to whom I have given The Look, something he is powerless to resist.

We agree to eat on three.

Now remember, Durian fruit is mushy.  You could think of it as rotten, but we prefer to think of it as pudding.  So I reminded everyone to think of it as pudding.  It's even the right color for vanilla custard.

We eat, we chew, we swallow.


Wait. It's not that bad.

Except it's most certainly not good.  Mostly it's just Not a Good Idea.

It certainly does taste better than it smells, but that's like saying a headache is better than brain surgery.  Why would you want either???

Our description: tastes like cantaloupe that was best three days ago, plus banana, plus (Ted) grass, (Cooper) tortilla, (me) egg, and a smidgen of toe jam.

We can see how some folks like it.  We can see why most folks don't.

But now we were stuck with most of a tray of Durian, a fruit you don't just toss in the trash. And we knew that Ziplocs were only a temporary solution.

So Ted and I troop out to the garage where Sanip (security) and Ivan (driver) are, telling them we tried Durian, are not big fans, and would either or both of them like some?

They both start laughing really hard and Ivan says, "Security likes Durian!" and then they crack up again.

We get the joke but we are desperate to get rid of this stuff- it's like the goo in The Cat in the Hat.

Thankfully, Ivan says he would, actually, like it.  And we gratefully put it on the table in the garage and beat a retreat into the house where we fill the air with Glade Fresh Linen scent.

We tried it, we lived to tell the tale, we will NOT be going to the Durian festival where they have Durian honey, Durian ice cream, Durian paste, and Durian crepes...

1 comment:

Steve and Suzanne Buchele said...

Great post! Fun to be reading your life again. I remember being deep in the bush of the Western Region of Ghana, getting a whiff of a large fruit that looks like Durian, and your description fits my memory. Of course we were eating all sorts of strange things that trip.