Durian, "god of fruits"

Created: Sat, April 13, 2002, 2:14 PM


Update: Take the following story with a grain of salt. I went to Malaysia and had a fresh, proper Durian, and the taste was quite wonderful (though the smell was still a bit hard to bear). It turns out that Durians are very sensitive fruits, and must be eaten withing two days after they fall to the ground.

The frozen imported variety we get here in the US just aren't worth bothering with -- but after tasting the real thing, fresh off of the tree, I must say, Durians are quite tasty. Never thought I'd say that.

So I apologize for defaming the "god of fruits" in the following story; I simply hadn't had a good, fresh one. I also definitely didn't pay the durian proper respect by hacking it open with a cutlash -- the proper way is to slice it carefully open, so the soft flesh is exposed and ready to eat. Oh well, live and learn.

(Scroll down to see Durian 2, the Revenge)


The Durian. Most people in the US have likely never heard of it, but it is legendary throughout Asian as the "God of Fruits", a rare and highly sough-after delicacy. Physically, it is a large brownish-green fruit about the size of a football, but looking more like an overgrown water chestnut. It has an extremely hard, spiny casing that makes opening it quite an interesting task.

I'd long heard about the Durian. Years ago before it was cultivated, people would trek through the jungle looking for the fabled fruit -- but even now, it is a fairly hard to find fruit outside of the areas where it grows natively (Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, etc.).

What makes the Durian so interesting is that although it is rumoured to taste absolutely wonderful, when you crack it open, it has quite a pungent aroma that has been likened to "rotting eggs" or "decaying flesh". Indeed, several countries have banned eating the Durian in public because of its smell.

Clearly such a rare fruit with a paradoxical rancid stench and purported wonderful taste was hard for me to resist. I wanted to try one.

Interesting sidenote: apparently it is quite dangerous to be walking around under a durian tree when the fruits are ripening. They weigh a good 5-15lbs (depending on the size of the fruit), with a very hard spiky skin, and can wound you quite badly (even kill you) you happen to be unlucky enough to have one of them to fall on your head.

I assumed that I'd have to be somewhere in Asia to pick one up, but quite by accident I stumbled upon two Durians in a local Asian market (I was there picking up green tea and a case of Yeo's soy milk). So quite naturally, I bought one (for about $10), invited my friend Mole over, and proceeded to see what all of the fuss was about.
Mole contemplates the Durian.
Brandishing the Trinidadian "cutlash" to be used to open up the durian.
Because I'd heard they were so hard to open, I decided to break out some extreme weaponry. I'd picked up a few machetes in in Trinidad (they call them "cutlashes"), and these stout blades seemed like just the right thing to crack open a tough, spiny Durian.

Well, it took more than a few hacks with the machete to get it open -- and I wasn't holding back with my swings, either. This sucker was tough to get open, but after a dozen or so focused blows, it came open, and my kitchen was filled immediately with a uniquely rank smell.
Surely such a blade will make short work of the durian...
Lining up for the first blow...
Hack, hack, hack, hack...
A dozen enthusiastic slashes later, the durian finally gives in.
Yes, the Durian does have quite an aroma, and it really does smell like decaying flesh combined with rotting eggs. Mole's first reaction was "um, maybe this one is rotten" -- to which I replied "No, it is supposed to smell like this."

We looked at each other with some trepidation as we inspected our newly opened Durian. The inside looked a bit intestinal, with large kidney-shaped seeds intermingled with pulpy walls that sectioned off the actual fruit part, which resembled scrambled eggs more than anything else.

Sure, it smelled bad, but people have been raving about how incredible it tastes. Who could resist trying the "King of all fruits"? So we broke out our forks, and proceeded to pull off parts of the egg-like fruit. We smelled it and cringed. I looked at Mole. Mole looked at me. "It's all you" he said, and stepped back to to take pictures of me trying my first bite of Durian.
Here's the cracked up durian, in all of its glory.
Staring suspiciously at the first forkful.
Smelling the durian prior to eating it is not a good idea.
The fateful moment arrives -- actually trying the first bite of durian.
Given that your sense of smell is closely linked to your sense of taste, it was a bit tough for us to believe that this thing could possibly taste good. I put the first bite in my mouth, and chewed it tepidly. The smell of rotting flesh permeated my nose. I nearly gagged, but I kept chewing.

Someone remarked that eating a Durian was like having custard in a sewer -- I can attest to this being remarkably accurate, both in terms of the mushy consistency of the fruit, and also the stench that accompanies each chewing motion. I must admit that after you chewed it a few times, and were "used" to the scent, it tasted pretty good, but it was quite hard to get past the initial scent.

Indeed, I'd come up with my own metaphor to say that it was similar to eating a cheesecake covered with a layer of feces. Sure, it tasted pretty good after it was half chewed, but man, it was brutal trying to get to that far.
The kidney-shaped seeds inside the durian.
Mole looks happy taking his first bite of durian...
...but I think this expression afterwards says it all.
Nala didn't want to have anything to do with the durian, either.
Mole tried it too, and had similar reactions to it. I wanted to try more to see if I could "get used to it" and start truly enjoying this fruit that so many people said was exquisite. I just couldn't do it. Mole would laugh at me as I'd take a big chunk, put it in my mouth to start chewing, and then my gag reflex would kick in and I'd barf it back out into the sink.

I made a valiant effort, repeating this several times, but alas, I just couldn't get past the stench and texture of the Durian. I felt uncultured and defeated, but there was just no way I could stomach the "God of fruits".

By this time, our entire apartment was bathed in the uniquely nasty smell of the Durian; I ended up lighting several candles to chase it away, and the Durian now sits outside on our front steps, enigmatically gloating, no doubt, that yet another silly American fell before it, unable to appreciate the taste so many people rave about.

All in all, it was a unique experience. If you're curious, I suggest giving one a shot -- maybe you'll fare better than I did.


Durian 2, the Revenge

Because once just wasn't enough, I decided to try yet another Durian. My brother was up visiting, and was curious about this noxious fruit I described to him, so we decided to give it another shot. Maybe the first one we obtained was a "bad" durian. Yeah. Sure.

The most classic moment was my brother saying, immediately after taking a bite, "Hey, this isn't that bad..." Then an instant later, his countenance changed dramatically, and he blurted out "Oh yes it is." My roomate Ali boycotted the whole proceedings and fled the premises in disgust. The pictures tell the story of my second durian encounter better than I could here, so have a look...

My brother John chopped open this one in one swing; I of course maintain it was softer than the first one.
John bends down to sniff the Durian like the dog he is...
The giant grub-shaped flesh of the durian, extracted onto one of Ali's plates (she loved that)
Everyone looks happy before they take their first bite of Durian...
"This doesn't taste so bad..."
"Oh... yes it does"
mmmm, smell that fragrant aroma
The durian is definitely something that must be tried to... um... appreciate it... yeah.
You don't suppose he really likes it, and is just playing hard to get?
That's right... take a nice deep whiff of the durian
"That is the single most disgusting thing I've ever experienced in my life; get it out of my face."
Silly me, I tried the durian again -- my gag reflex kicked in immediately.
Not one of my finer moments, sweating, drooling, and horking up durian in the sink.
The glory of a fully exhumed durian, splattered about the cutting board
Wow, you're right John, it really does look like someone barfed on the counter... smells like they ate decaying flesh, too

no durian
From an airport in Singapore; durians are banned
in some public places... for good reason: the stench

For more info on the durian, I suggest checking out this web site of links which has a whole host of links to other durian web sites.


Other strange adventures, stories, and pictures can be found here. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at: andrew@AmbrosiaSW.com

Andrew Welch / el Presidente / Ambrosia Software, Inc.