The durian fruit – one either loves it or hates it. I didn’t know which camp we fell into so decided to find out.
Durians are a point of pride in Penang. There are more than 50 varieties of the fruit on the island. Connoisseurs liken durian to wine. The age of the tree, the source, the variety, how soon consumption follows falling – they all make a difference to the final product.
A durian stall annouces itself before it’s seen due to its sharp aroma. Sharp is putting it nicely, as I had a gag reflex the first time I got a whiff, thinking I was passing a compost pile. Many buildings in Thailand the Malaysia, where the fruit is revered, don’t even allow it.
Things did’t get too much more inviting when I finally saw the durian. The outside shell is a warning of spikes.
I decided to brave the smell and shell, and purchase a fruit. This gentlemen, like most durian sellers, commits himself only to this fruit. The fruit stall a few feet away offers a choice of tropical fruits but no durian. At this point I’m thinking the reason is that the smell alone is enough to contaminate the mangos, mangosteens, and rambutans.
I’m still trying not to be judgmental and admire the skill with which the seller plies open the spiky shell and pops orange segments of fruit out of their white protective coating.
Thank goodness I was spared doing that myself. A plate of durians looks almost as unappetizing as it smells.
Back at our place, we left the package on the terrace. If they’re not allowed in Malaysian restaurants and hotels, I didn’t see the need to invite them into our apartment. Apparently, the longer you wait after the fruit falls, the stinkier things get. Could things really get any stinkier?
We went it. The only plus side, to me, was that it tasted somewhat like mango, except a mango that is about a month overripe, and possibly mixed with some decaying matter. It is slimy in a way I would imagine moss to feel going down my throat. At first Ava flat out refused to try it. “NO! Yucky smell” But not wanting to miss out on the commotion, she went in for a bite. Here are some befores and afters. Despite Kayan’s trepidation over the smell, both he and Sandeep were in the love it camp.
After the durian tasting, we bagged the leftovers (I’m suspicious about Kayan and Sandeep’s fondness given the amount of leftovers) in three plastic bags and tossed them in the garbage. Two hours later, things got stinkier. The smell wafted out of the bags, through the closed garbage can and out of the kitchen cabinet. Even Sandeep agreed it was time to take desperate measures. We tied the package in a fourth bag and wandered the streets of Penang at midnight until we found a garbage bin.
The durian is so esteemed in Penang that there are fares around the fruit, contests for best in class, and banquets featuring the fruit cooked in every imaginable form. Jimmy Choo, designer and Penangite, claims “Dangerously difficult to open, with its impossibly pungent taste, the durian is nature’s bizarre gift to our region and we love it.”
We’re all glad we gave the fruit a valiant effort. We want to get out of our comfort zones on our travels, and the durian certainly helped achieve that mission.