Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Durio zibethinus

my durian
I’d long been curious about durian, the famously smelly Southeast Asian fruit, but never quite curious enough to taste one. David Quammen’s description in his book Spillover pushed me over the edge. He eats durian with a bat researcher when he’s visiting Guangzhou and describes the experience with relish:

“It is a large spiky thing, a durian, like a puffer fish that has swallowed a football; pried open, it yields individual gobbets of glutinous creamy pulp, maybe eight or ten gobbets per fruit, and an unwelcoming bouquet. The pulp tastes like vanilla custard and smells like the underwear of someone you don’t want to know. We ate barehanded, slurping the goo between our fingers as it oozed and dripped. . . .”

I could not get to the Chinese market fast enough. 

More about the durian from The Oxford Companion to Food

“'Duri' is the Malay word for spike, and the tree takes its name from the hard, spiky shell which the fruit develops. A full-grown fruit may weight 2 kg (5lb) or more. Since the tree may be as high as 30 meters (300') and the fruit drops off when ripe, it is wise to take care when walking near such trees in the durian season. Death by durian is not uncommon. Another hazard at this time is the appeal the fallen, split fruit has for tigers. . .”

I paid $35 for my durian at the Richmond New May Wah and the cashier wrapped it in some Chinese language newspaper. It was already cracked and appeared fragile, so I carried it carefully in my hands to the car. According to The Oxford Companion, people have compared the aroma to “sewage, stale vomit, onions, and cheese,” which is why the fruit has been banned from trains and buses in places like Singapore. 

Exciting! But in my small car on a hot afternoon I could smell nothing but a faint, fruity perfume that wasn’t at all unpleasant. Was something wrong with my sense of smell? I held the durian up to Owen’s nose when I got home. He didn’t smell anything either. I googled “odorless durian” and read that scientists have figured out how to breed the aroma out of the fruit. I must have ended up with one of the odorless durians. So disappointing. Like getting a bottle of mezcal without the worm. 

I pulled open the durian with my hands along the cracks in the shell. It’s divided into sections, each one with its lobe of soft, sickly yellow flesh. How did it taste? “Vanilla custard” is too kind, not to mention off the mark. My durian was sweet, but there was something in the flavor that kept it from being entirely fruity. Something assertive, sour, and vegetal. Slightly fermented. It was reasonably tasty and the texture was pleasantly creamy. The only thing I found off-putting -- and I found it very off-putting --  was the larval appearance of those pale, wet lobes. The word that kept springing to mind was “grub." 



Having read a bit about durians, I now know that there are different breeds and flavors and mine may not have been of the finest quality or at the optimal ripeness. Having tasted just one durian, I’m not a hater, but I’m not a fan. Not yet, anyway. According to The Oxford Companion, the 19th century British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace loved durians so much that he wrote: “To eat durions (sic) is a new sensation worth a voyage to the East to experience.”

I wouldn’t go that far, but it was well worth $35 and the fifteen-minute drive in to San Francisco.

66 comments:

  1. That is so gloriously crazy looking! I love it, and new (to me) fruit in general.

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    Replies
    1. It's cute, isn't it? Until you break it open.

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  2. The durian I have been near stank to high heaven, sort of a nausea-inducing fish food cats' urine type of smell. I couldn't face tasting them! But I'm told they are delicious - apparently they stink of hell, taste of heaven.

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    Replies
    1. Someday I will smell one. I wonder if the terrible smell in some mysterious way would make the fruit taste better.

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  3. My parents retired to Hawaii. I've seen durian trees there several times. I never thought to avoid walking under them; now I will!

    I'm visiting the Bay Area in October (from Orange County). If you have any dishes, restaurants or shops to recommend, I'm listening. SF is such a foodie haven; my head is muddled by all the options.

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    Replies
    1. How exciting! Tell me what specifically you're interested in -- bakeries? cookbook shops? restaurants? You can email me at tipsybaker@gmail.com

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  4. I had durian at a foodie friend's wedding a few months ago. It wasn't odourless, but the chef said it had been frozen and apparently that tamps the smell down a bit. I liked it once I got up the nerve to try it - it sort of reminded me of vanilla and feet, but in a good way, like an oozy Camembert. The chef was searing bits in a frypan, which gave it a nice caramel edge.

    Not sure I am quite as enthused as Wallace, though. Maybe if it hadn't been frozen.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I'd read that freezing mutes the flavor. Mine didn't appear to have been frozen. Maybe I'll saute the last few lobes and see how that goes. One of the interesting details I read in the Oxford Companion to Food is that people cook and sugar the seeds, which are gigantic.

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  5. A coworker opened a durian once in our office cafeteria, up a floor and down the hallway from my workspace. We thought there was a gas leak in the building. You definitely didn't get the whole experience! I was too turned off to taste it, but I have tried durian candy. Not a fan.

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    Replies
    1. I sort of want to try some durian desserts now, though I can't imagine they'd be very good. They had durian ice cream bon bons at the Chinese market, but I thought I should start with the fruit.

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  6. That's awesome. Never heard of a durian that I can remember, but at risk of boring you with more Quammen references, Alfred Wallace is one of the greatest characters in biology that I've read of, and in Song of the Dodo David Quammen details Wallace's life and incredible journeys. Knowing the wild and harrowing trips that Wallace made to the east gives incredible weight to his testament to the durian. Wallace was a contemporary with Charles Darwin (Darwin's life is also described in detail in SOng of the Dodo).

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    Replies
    1. You can not bore me with David Quammen references, Adah. Partly because of your last comment on David Quammen, I read Song of the Dodo. I think it might be even better than Spillover. At the risk of sounding breathless, it changed how I look at the world. I wish my 9th grader had to read it for biology class.

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  7. I grew up eating durian, never craved it but I think I like it more now than I did as a kid. I've had really good ones, creamy and sweet, but the last one I had a few weeks ago was stringy and sour, "fermented" maybe like you said. But there's always a savoury edge to durian, kinda oniony, kinda umami. It's worth trying again :) maybe we missed durian season?

    I have eaten durian desserts in Hong Kong and Toronto - some tasty replicable ones: durian smoothie (vanilla ice cream trumps vegetal quality / stringiness), durian crepe (wrap flesh in crepe with whipped cream basically). great cold!

    and funny you said larva - maybe not read this if you plan on eating durian again - my friend once had a really tasty durian, creamy, sweet, and in the middle of eating she saw a lobe of durian move. turns out if was a larvae that's eaten so much durian it looked like one. but it was the best durian she's ever had! got rid of the thing and kept eating. sometimes nature knows its own good stuff.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can believe it about the larva -- ugh! Your friend is bolder than I would be.
      I'll definitely try durian again, when the right opportunity presents itself.

      Delete
  8. See? You are always teaching us. This is a great post, even though I doubt that I will go out looking for durian. Did that give you your exotic fix?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Now I'm curious about jackfruit.

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  9. Once my daughter and I were in a taxi in Singapore and we told the driver we wanted to try durian; he stopped at a stand, picked one out and cut it open .. we all had some. Satisfied my curiosity. I didn't hate it but I don't have an urge to eat it again. The driver said that if he had some tucked away in the cab, if Chinese passengers got in they'd say "something smells good"; the others would say "something stinks."

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  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  11. You now have to watch this skit about a Durian on Portlandia! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmitvXIamFc

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I told my son, I want to watch this skit with you on Portlandia! You know, common ground. Turns out he'd already seen it. Knew all about durians.

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  12. I love durian, and your post is timely as I had some for breakfast only this morning. In Australia, I am lead to believe that all of ours are imported frozen, and if what other commenters have said is true, that may explain why I don't find the smell at all offensive. In fact, it is quite literally the only food that I truly find mouth watering.

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    Replies
    1. My durian may have been frozen, too. I've been thinking about my durian since it's been gone -- missing it. (The shell is sitting in the worm box, but I'm not sure the worms can work their way through something so hard.) I may have to splurge on another durian in a month or two.

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  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  14. لا تقلق بشان تلوث مياه الخزان الخاص بك , فمع شركة تنظيف خزانات بالرياض تتخلص
    من كل الطفيليات والطحالب والبكتيريا العالقه بجدران الخزان الداخليه وبالاعتماد على افضل شركة تنظيف خزانات بالرياض المواد والادوات عاليه الجودة فضلا عن الاعتماد على اكفأ وامهر عماله بشرية تعمل بجد واجتهاد فى مجال تنظيف خزانات بالرياض فاتصل بنا ولا تتردد ونحن فى انتظارك لخدمتك على الرحب والسعه نحن شركة تنظيف خزانات بالرياض نقدم لكم الشركة الرائده فى عالم كشف التسربات وتسليك المجارى بأحدث اجهزة الكشف وبدون تكسير بالاعتماد على اكفأ المهندسين المختصين بأعمال السباكة المنزلية واصلاح المواسير الداخليه والخارجية واللذين يؤدون خدمتهم على اكمل وجه وبأقل التكاليف واجود النتائج من شركة كشف تسربات المياه بالرياض فاتصلو بنا عملاؤنا الكرام من اى مكان بالسعودية لنتشرف بخدمتكم على الرحب والسعة نحن افضل شركة كشف تسربات المياه بالرياض
    تنظيف خزانات

    ReplyDelete
  15. تتعدد خطوات الحصول علي البيت السعيد واحدي هذه الخطوات تكمن في نظافه المنزل وللحصول علي افضل شركة تنظيف بالرياض ماعليك الا الاتصال بنا في اي وقت ونحن نضمن لك باذن الله اعلي جوده نظافه مع شركة تنظيف كنب بالرياض احدث الامكانيات وافضل مواد التنظيف وتشمل عمليه التنظيف عدة مراحل تتلخص في الاتي : المرحله الاولي تكمن في عمليه التواصل مع العميل وتحديد الموعد المناسب للبداء في عمليه التنظيف وحجز موعد لتنفذ العمل
    لاكن تاكد عميلنا العزيز اننا بفضل الله افضل
    شركة تنظيف منازل بالرياض اما الخطوه الثانيه في تنظيف المنزل من الخارج بالاضافه الي السطح وتشمل 1- غسيل وتنظيف الحوش وازاله المخلفات 2 تنظيف سطح المنزل بالكامل 3 - تنظيف الخزانات وهذه العمله تشمل التنظيف وتعقيم خزانات المياه

    ReplyDelete
  16. كشف تسربات المياه بالرياض | الشرق الأوسط
    جهاز كشف تسربات المياه الالكتروني بحث دقيق واكتشاف وحلول تسربات المياه
    خدمات الصيانة والإصلاح المتكاملة شركة كشف تسربات المياه بالرياض - شركة كشف تسربات المياه هل تواجه مشكلة تسربات او تهريبات مياه بالمنزل كشف تسربات المياه بالرياض تقدم لك شركة الشرق الأوسط للخدمات المنزلية والتي تواجه احتياجات العميل واهميتة الخاصة بتسرب المياه المزعجة تقدم شركة الشرق الأوسط أفضل خدمات الكشف والصيانة عن تسربات المياه سواء من مواسير الحار او البارد او مواسير الصرف الصحي وتقوم بالإصلاح الخراب الموجوج بالمنزل وذلك تمتلك الشركة أحدث الأجهزة الأمريكية والماكينات المخصصة في كشف تسربات المياه وايضا تمتلك الشركة مجموعة مميزة ذات كفاءة عالية في عمليات كشف تسرب المياه
    ـــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــ
    كما نقدم لكم خدمات متميزة اخري اخري يمكنك الاستفادة منها

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    ReplyDelete
  17. نقل الاثاث مع الفك والتركيب افضل شركة غسيل وتعقيم خزانات غسيل الكنب والسجاد ومكافحة الحشرات وتسليك المجارى بالمدينة المنورة المثالية 0552692371
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    ReplyDelete
  18. Mở bán an binh city geleximco hà đông
    Mở bán dự án an bình city hà đông
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    Chủ đầu tư chung cu brg park phạm văn đồng
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    Mở bán chung cư the golden palm hà đông


    Mở bán chung cư royal park thanh xuân hà đông
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    Ra mắt dự án five star resident hà nội
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    Mở bán biệt thự the green daisy hà đông
    Mở bán flc hà đông hà đông

    ReplyDelete
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