“When the durians fall down, the sarongs go up.” – Malay saying
Durian’s smell has been likened to “road kill wrapped in sweaty socks.” It’s so pungent that it’s been banned in most Asian airlines and hotels. And with a taste that has been described as “cheese, decayed onion and turpentine,” durian sounds like something you wouldn’t want in your garbage, let alone your mouth. So why are people willing to pay as much as $25-50 for this “king of fruits”?
The green, melon-sized durian grows on trees throughout Southeast Asia. The outside is covered with spiky thorns that can pierce even calloused hands. On the inside it has five oval compartments, each filled with pale, edible pulp and one to five large seeds. Since a durian can weigh as much as 18 pounds, farmers have been known to wear helmets to protect their heads when they harvest the fruit.
Those who can bring themselves to try the creamy pulp say that the putrid smell and taste eventually give way to overtones of hazelnut, apricot, caramelized banana and egg custard. Many who say they were initially repulsed by durian find themselves with an overwhelming urge to consume large amounts of it. Even more surprising is that durian is considered an aphrodisiac — this despite the fact that it can make your breath and sweat stink.
Durian comes in two general varieties – sweet or creamy – and individual fruits vary in complexity, much like red wines or stinky cheeses. If you’re brave enough to try it, you don’t need to go father than your local Asian food store. But take along someone who already knows and loves the fruit because — for obvious reasons — it can be hard for a novice to tell whether he or she has gotten a good one.
You might also want to have handy an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and mouthwash to get rid of the durian smell — unless, of course, you’re planning on spending the next few days with a durian addict. In which case, you might want to loosen your sarong.