Posted by: adventuressetravels | March 27, 2012

The King of Fruits

It smells like carrion:  something that has lain dead, rotting in the sun for days, its flesh putrefying, changing into an unspeakably foul odor.   For years I had been hearing about the “King of Fruits,” this fruit that reeked but was so popular in Southeast Asia.   I couldn’t believe anything edible, at least any fruit, smelled that bad.

But it is sold throughout Asia, in stands on the street, as filling for cookies, chocolates, and all types of pastry.  There is no denying that durian is hugely popular.

Of course there is a backlash.   Durian isn’t allowed in Singapore’s subways.  It s banned in nicer hotels, and good establishments.  I was incredulous.  Until I walked past a fruit stand selling durian that is.   Even after traveling in India, a land where raw sewage perfumes the air, the pungent aroma still nearly knocked me down.  It was like some unspeakable thing that has crawled out of your worst nightmares.

After smelling the distinctive aroma I no longer wondered at the anti-durian contingent – the smell is not something one can keep to oneself:  the odor lingers: even after durian stands break down for the night, you can always tell where the durian sellers have sold their wares.  After my first whiff I fully understood the ban on durian in any decent establishment.  How on earth could something that smelled that bad taste good?  But people love it.

I adore trying new things: I slurp up snails on the street without a second thought, I even chomped on crickets.  Still, I was apprehensive of trying this fruit.  Eating something that smelled so much like carrion gave me pause.  After months in Asia I still hadn’t tried it.  Finally, in Penang, Malaysia, I decided enough was enough; I’d suck it up, hold my nose and try it.

I kept telling myself I was waiting for the right moment.  Trying this fruit had to be an experience of epic proportions.  It had to be memorable.

Traveling around Penang, Malaysia with Jenny, an Australian woman and some of her Malaysian friends, I mentioned that I had never tried it.  Not 5-minutes later we pulled over to a roadside fruit stand and her friends bought one of the large, spiky fruits.

The fruit’s pungent aroma filled the car almost instantly, and we quickly rolled down the windows as we explored the jungle island.  We all piled out of the car and made our way up a slippery mud path, over log, bridges and slippery stones, until we reached a secluded jungle pool.  This was the place to try Durian.

Jenny’s friends pulled open the tough, prickly exterior of the fruit to reveal several what appeared to be cream-colored fruits.  One of them handed me a plum-sized piece of fruit.  The pulp was surrounded by a thin membrane, just thick enough to hold the meat in and keep juice and pulp from coating your fingers.

I regarded the foul-smelling fruit in my hands.  Oh it looked innocuous, but odor belied the butter-colored appearance.  I held my breath, closed my eyes, and took a bite.  The thin membrane burst open and the meat inside dissolved in my mouth.  To my surprise it had a creamy texture and tasted like the richest egg custard. With slightly musky hints, the flavor was something I would expect out of a fine French pastry shop, not a fruit.

The texture is unlike any fruit; closer to pudding than a fruit which only serves to reinforce the custard flavor.  It is hard to believe that a fruit that smelled like week-dead carrion could taste so delicious.  But I suppose this is why it is called the king of fruits

After my first taste I have sampled durian cream tarts which were phenomenal and durian cream-filled cookies, which weren’t quite as good.  I haven’t gone so far as to try durian chocolates, but I wouldn’t refuse one.  Yes, I am a convert.  As bad as it smells, durian is delicious.  Long live the king of fruits!

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